May 27, 2016

Thousands of Public Pools, Hot Tubs Closed for Serious Violations

CDC suggests public check inspection results before swimming

Every year, serious health and safety violations force thousands of public pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds to close, according to a report published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Swimming is a great way to exercise and spend time with family and friends but, as with any form of exercise, there are risks. Inspections of public pools and other aquatic venues enforce standards to prevent illness, drowning and pool chemical-associated injuries such as poisoning or burns.

“No one should get sick or hurt when visiting a public pool, hot tub or water playground,” said Beth Bell, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. “That’s why public health and aquatics professionals work together to improve the operation and maintenance of these public places - so people will be healthy and safe when they swim.”

Inspection data were collected in 2013 in the five states with the most public pools and hot tubs: Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas. Researchers reviewed data on 84,187 routine inspections of 48,632 public aquatic venues, including pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds and other places where people swim in treated water.

Results found:

  • Most inspections of public aquatic venues (almost 80%) identified at least one violation.
  • One in eight inspections resulted in immediate closure because of serious health and safety violations.
  • One in five kiddie or wading pools were closed—the highest proportion of closures among all inspected venues.
  • The most common violations reported were related to improper pH (15%), safety equipment (13%) and disinfectant concentration (12%).

“Environmental health practitioners, or public health inspectors, play a very important role in protecting public health. However, almost one-third of local health departments do not regulate, inspect or license public pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds,” said Michele Hlavsa, R.N., M.P.H., chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program. “We should all check for inspection results online or on site before using public pools, hot tubs or water playgrounds, and do our own inspection before getting into the water.”

CDC shared its findings during Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, which began May 23. It encourages swimmers to protect themselves from getting sick or hurt at pools or hot tubs.

When visiting public or private pools, swimmers and parents of young swimmers can complete their own inspection using a short and easy checklist to identify some of the most common health and safety problems.

  • Use a test strip (available at most superstores or pool supply stores) to determine if the pH and free chlorine or bromine concentration are correct. CDC recommends a free chlorine concentration of at least 1 ppm in pools and at least 3 ppm in hot tubs or spas; a free bromine concentration of at least 3 ppm in pools and at least 4 ppm in hot tubs/spas; and a pH of 7.2 to 7.8.
  • Make sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible. Clear water allows lifeguards and other swimmers to see swimmers underwater who might need help.
  • Ensure drain covers are secured and in good repair. A loose or broken drain cover can trap swimmers underwater.
  • Confirm a lifeguard is on duty at public venues. If not, check whether safety equipment like a rescue ring with rope or pole is available.

If problems are found, do not get into the water. Tell the person in charge so the problems can be fixed. For more information and other healthy and safe swimming steps, visit

Before CDC-led development of the Model Aquatic Health Code, there were no national standards for the design, construction, operation and maintenance practices to prevent illness and injury at public treated recreational water venues. Now, local and state authorities can voluntarily adopt these science- and best practice-based guidelines to make swimming and other activities at public pools and other aquatic venues healthier and safer.

The second edition of the code will be released during the 2016 swim season. For more information about the Model Aquatic Health Code, visit