Water testers need testing, too, city officials say

2014-04-07T11:50:00Z 2014-04-07T11:55:06Z Water testers need testing, too, city officials sayBy NANCY HICKS / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Bruce Raymer swipes a plastic container through the water several times, then digs deeper into the downtown YMCA pool.

He's checking to make sure the water is safe for swimmers.

It’s a five-minute process that includes adding a chemical to make water in the container turn pink, swirling — not shaking — then adding another chemical to turn it clear again and calculating the chlorine level.

Every three hours, an employee — usually a lifeguard — tests the water and records the result.

If there is a problem, the lifeguard calls YMCA management so someone can correct the balance.

Raymer, a licensed pool operator, teaches the guards how to do the testing.

In the near future, the city likely will require that anyone who checks public pools for water quality be trained, tested and certified by the city.

Last year, the city had to close 133 pools during inspections because water did not meet quality standards.

Inspectors find a quality issue that requires immediate closure 20 to 25 percent of the time, said Scott Holmes, Environmental Public Health Division manager for the local health department.

"That shouldn’t be happening," he said.

City inspectors believe that too often, people doing the testing aren’t doing it correctly or don’t know what to do when they find a problem.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on proposed changes in pool regulations at a 3 p.m. Monday meeting.

The rules, which haven’t been updated since 1989, cover the city’s 225 public pools, which include motel and apartment pools, spray parks and spas. The rules do not apply to private, backyard pools.

Most of the changes simply assure local standards reflect changes in state standards. But the water quality tester certification is a Lincoln addition.

Under the proposal, only certified pool operators and pool testers will be allowed to do the water quality checks, generally required every four hours on public pools.

Both operators and testers will take a short class — less than an hour — and be tested to make sure they know how to use testing kits, Holmes said.

"It's like a chemistry test. You have to add the correct number of drops. You have to swirl and not shake."

The pool testing certification costs $20 for a two-year license. 

Water quality is an important public health risk. Treating water reduces the chance the water will transmit skin, eye or gastrointestinal diseases, said Holmes.

Maintaining water quality also helps avoid cryptosporidium outbreaks, a diarrheal illness.

The new rules will also require spray parks that use recirculating water to have an additional disinfection measure standard to reduce the cryptosporidium outbreak potential.

The cryptosporidium parasite has been the cause of numerous large outbreaks of illness, including an estimated 4,000 cases in 2005 tied to a large spray park in upstate New York.

In Lincoln, there have been two large outbreaks — in 1995 and 2001 — both initially spread at public swimming pools, according to Holmes.

In the largest outbreak, the health department had more than 133 confirmed cases linked to an initial outbreak at a public swimming pool in 2001.

That outbreak also spread into child-care settings and to older siblings. The department estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people contracted crypto during it.

Lincoln’s proposed spray park regulation mirrors what is being developed nationally by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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