May 25, 2011

New CDC Study on "Swimmer's Ear" Reinforces Need for Healthier Pools

Water Quality & Health Council offers free test strips to check pH and chlorine levels

New research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the incidence and healthcare costs of "swimmer's ear" underscores the need for the public to play an active role in ensuring healthy pools. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) shows that "swimmer's ear" accounts for 2.4 million doctor visits and nearly $500 million in health care costs annually.

As Memorial Day approaches and the traditional summer pool season begins, the Water Quality & Health Council is again making free pool test kits available to the public so swimmers can check pH and chlorine levels. According to the CDC, pools with proper pH and chlorine levels are less likely to harbor the bacteria that can cause "swimmer's ear" and the germs that cause other recreational water illnesses, including diarrhea and athlete's foot.

Last summer, the Water Quality & Health Council provided more than 43,000 free pool test strips to individuals who requested them via the Healthy Pools website. Data submitted last summer by swimmers who had requested the strips found that 40% of pools had either unacceptable levels of chlorine or pH readings.

"We're calling on swimmers to take an active role in keeping pools healthy. We want them to 'dip before they dive,' that is, before getting in the pool, swimmers should dip a color-coded test strip into the water to check the pool chemistry. When Americans head to the pool this summer, they can make packing a pool test strip with them as routine as packing a towel and sunscreen," said Chris Wiant, chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

When testing pool water for proper pH and chlorine levels, the pH should register between 7.2 and 7.8, and the free chlorine level should be between 1 and 4 parts per million. If levels are inadequate, pool staff should be notified immediately. Pool operators should check disinfectant levels and pH at least twice per day. Swimmers can request free test strips and upload their test results by visiting The Water Quality & Health Council has developed a convenient smart phone application to enable swimmers to upload data poolside.

In addition to using pool test kits, swimmers can use their senses to check for the signs of a healthy pool. Swimmers should be able to:

• See through the water to the floor of the pool;
• Hear pool cleaning equipment;
• Smell no harsh chemical odor; and
• Feel no sliminess on pool tiles.