Effective water treatment is serious business, and that is true precisely because ineffective water treatment leads to serious consequences. The brutal logic is inescapable. Consider that in the world of public utilities, the ability to kill and otherwise manage waterborne diseases is a cornerstone of public health and safety. Our very lives depend on it. We do not function as a society or individually without sanitized water.
The same is true for all types of pools and spas, from the biggest and most used to the smallest and most private. In my opinion, it’s self-evident that every person involved with treating water used for human immersion has a professional, indeed a moral, obligation to make sure the water is safe. Failing to do so leads to negative outcomes that directly impact people’s health and in some catastrophic cases, can become fatal.
Sickness and Death
We see evidence and efficacy of that obligation all the time. Here are just two examples that have made the news. First, in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan, the Canham Natatorium was closed for three weeks after an outbreak of Cryptosporidium (crypto). Ten people fell ill after swimming in the facility’s four pools. Fortunately, no one died. Make no mistake, crypto can be fatal, especially for people with compromised immune systems or the very young or old.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2009 to 2017, there have been “444 cryptosporidiosis outbreaks, resulting in 7,465 cases [being] reported by 40 states and Puerto Rico.1 The number of reported outbreaks has increased an average of approximately 13% per year.” According to an article in The Lancet Global Journal, in 2016, recorded deaths worldwide in children under 5 years of age approached the 50,000 mark.2
While crypto has garnered widespread media attention over the past few years, it’s far from the only harmful waterborne microorganism. In a far more severe outbreak, nearly 150 people who attended the North Carolina Mountain State Fair in early September contracted Legionnaires’ disease (caused by a bacterium known as Legionella) after being exposed to airborne mist from a contaminated hot tub that was on display.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, at least 133 people were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ while another eight were confirmed to have a milder form of the disease called Pontiac fever. At least 94 people were hospitalized in the North Carolina outbreak. Four people have died.
By all current indications, all of that happened because of one dirty hot tub. It’s stunning to think that all those people got sick and four passed away because someone failed to properly treat the water. While it’s true that waterborne pathogens such as crypto and the Legionella bacterium are highly resistant to chlorine, and they are in a sense opportunistic and sneaky — crypto travels around in human intestines and the Legionella bacterium hides in biofilm — these outbreaks are nonetheless entirely preventable.
This is why our SRK HydroZone 3® system uses ozone, UV, and chlorine residuals to create layers of protection. This is why filtration and turnover rates are critical and why automated testing and control are essential. And, this is why managers of aquatic facilities and homeowners alike should turn to experts in the field of water treatment.
Yes, treating a massive aquatic facility is different from a portable spa in many respects. But in both cases, technologies and procedures can and should be applied to ensure bather comfort and, especially, safety. There is no excuse for outbreaks of harmful and deadly waterborne illnesses. Every time it happens, it is direct evidence of a failure of common sense and a lack of applied knowledge.
In our work, we often hear the phrase, “We’ve been doing it this way for 30 years and have never had a problem,” or words to that affect. Well, just because something bad hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. Fact is, all aquatic-related tragedies are statistical outliers. You never know when or where they will strike, or because of what combination of specific reasons and circumstances. In a very real way, in our work protecting people from illness, we are fighting forces of nature. That’s why we must be vigilant and willing to improve our treatment methods, technology, and thinking.
All aquatic professionals owe it to those using the water to guard their health and safety and to do so with seamless consistency and solemn professional commitment. Anything less is profoundly unacceptable and potentially deadly.
- Gharpure R, Perez A, Miller AD, et al. Cryptosporidiosis Outbreaks — United States, 2009 – 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6825a3.htm. Accessed October 28, 2019.
- Khalil IA, Troeger C, Rao PC, et al.Morbidity, mortality, and long-term consequences associated with diarrhoea from Cryptosporidium infection in children younger than 5 years: a meta-analyses study. The Lancet Global Health. 2018 July;6(7).