Small army of county inspectors works to keep swimmers safe

Contaminated pools can cause serious illnesses including Legionnaires’ disease


WATER WISE—A team of inspectors makes sure the public pools are suitable for swimmers, including testing for algae and looking for poorly maintained fencing, gates and pool equipment.

WATER WISE—A team of inspectors makes sure the public pools are suitable for swimmers, including testing for algae and looking for poorly maintained fencing, gates and pool equipment.

When it comes to summer fun, nothing quite fills the bill better than a cool dip in a pool.

But most swimmers diving into any of Ventura County’s public pools this summer are blissfully unaware that a small army of inspectors is continually working behind the scenes to make sure those dips don’t make them sick—or dead.

This is the busy season for the 19 inspectors who work for Ventura County’s Environmental Health Division. As part of the Recreational Health Program, their job is to check more than 1,500 the public pools and spas in the county and enforce health and safety codes.

Inspectors pay annual visits to public pools in parks, schools, hotels, health clubs, spas, apartment buildings, local YMCAs— any place where there’s public swimming or dipping, said Doug Beach, who manages the program.

“We’re primarily looking for any problems related to health and safety—for instance, not having enough chlorine in the pool,” Beach said.

Serious sicknesses caused by contaminated pool water include gastrointestinal illness as well as Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form pneumonia, and Pontiac fever, which causes flu-like symptoms.

Illnesses from treated recreational water are a constant and serious threat, accounting for 27,219 cases in the U.S. between 2000 and 2014, including eight deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC classifies those individual cases as “outbreaks,” in which two or more people came down with the same illness after sharing the same pool or spa.

Most of the outbreaks tracked by CDC occurred at hotels, and the majority occurred between June and August, according to the Atlanta-based health agency’s website.

In Ventura County, inspectors check on over 1,500 public pools and spas that have permits though the county. Of those permitted pools and spas, 23 had received orders to close as of last week due to substandard water and safety conditions, including locations in Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and Simi Valley.

Problems severe enough to prompt county inspectors to issue a closure order are posted online for the public to view at the Environmental Health Division’s website, vcrma.org/recreational-health-public-pools-and-spas.

Closure orders are updated to indicate when the problems were fixed and the date when the pool or spa was reopened.

“It’s updated every day,” Beach said of the website.

That’s because pool water quality can quickly turn unhealthy, especially in the summer when temperatures climb. Algae grows quicker in warmer water. But maintaining proper chemical levels and a good working filtration system can correct any water quality issues, Beach said.

Safety violations can also trigger a closure order. At a Motel 6 in Camarillo, for example, an inspector ordered the pool closed on June 5 after finding safety equipment wasn’t being maintained. No reopen date was listed on the county website as of June 19.

Inspectors also shut down the pool at the Eagle Ridge residential development in Thousand Oaks on June 6 after finding gates and fencing weren’t being maintained. They also closed the spa there because the water’s chemistry was “not within acceptable range.”

The problems were corrected and the pool and spa were reopened on June 12, according to county records.

Beach, who has been with the inspection program for five years, said he’s seen no upward or downward trend in the number of pool and spa closures from year to year, he said.

“It’s pretty much steady,” he said.

Another danger

Apart from health risks from swimming pools, the potential for accidental drowning also increases during summer.

Every year an average of 3,536 people drown in unintentional, non-boating related accidents in the United States, about 10 deaths per day. Drowning is still the leading cause of death for children younger than 4, according to the CDC, which created guidelines that local governments can use to create pool codes to reduce drowning.

Statistics on pool drowning deaths in Ventura County were unavailable “as we don’t have comprehensive data on final outcomes,” the fire department’s records department said in response to request from the Acorn.

The National Pool Safety Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit which provides safety tips for pool owners and businesses, recommends pool owners invest in a pool alarm, which works with Wi-Fi to send a warning when a child accidentally falls into a pool.

Several pool alarms are now on the market, including wrist-worn alarms.

Closer to home, Ventura County Fire Department officials are set next week to honor Simi Valley resident Tami Kirkland for saving the life of a 6-year-old child who fell into a backyard pool.

“She bravely came to the aid of a child found unconscious and floating in a pool next door to her home,” VCFD Capt. Steve Swindle said in a news release.

Kirkland called 911 and performed CPR on the child. When paramedics arrived they found that Kirkland had saved the child’s life.

“Tami’s calm, decisive demeanor, directions to bystanders and administering CPR exemplify the value of quick actions and lifesaving skills,” Swindle said.

Ventura County Fire Department provides information and tips on avoiding pool accidents at vcfd.org/images/ready-set-go/ Water–and-Pool–Safety.pdf.