ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chlorine can’t fend off everything lurking in the water
Every year, thousands of Americans get sick from recreational water illnesses caused by coming into contact with shared bodies of contaminated water. And while Albuquerque officials take public safety at swimming pools very seriously, there are things everyone should do to ensure healthy swimming for everyone, says Hal Senke, the city’s epidemiologist
“We are all swimming in the same water,” he said. “There is the potential for a lot of people to get very sick.”
The city regulates the operation of about 700 swimming pools, including those owned and operated by the city’s aquatics department along with those at hotels and motels. And, Senke says, those pools and their operators are watched closely to make sure they are in compliance with health and safety regulations.
Contrary to popular belief, chlorine does not kill all germs instantly, Senke said. And there are some germs that are tolerant to chlorine. That is one reason that the city has installed a secondary sanitation system in many of its pools.
Recreational water illness (RWI) includes gastrointestinal problems, severe skin or eye irritation and wound infections, he said, with diarrhea being the most common.
“Nothing lives without water, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of different organisms that thrive in that environment,” Senke said.
The very young, the very old and those with compromised immune systems are more prone to being affected by these germs, according to Senke.
Within the city of Albuquerque, every public or semi-public pool must employ a certified pool operator and must operate under a city permit.
The city’s Environmental Health Department also acts on reports from the public concerning water quality.
“We urge people to call 311 if they have any problems with excessive eye or skin irritations,” he said. But he also urges people to “help each other out” to keep safe by following the “Swim Safe” guidelines posted at all the pools and in the accompanying box.
“We want everyone to have fun at the pools. We don’t want anyone getting sick,” he said.