Public Health and Public Swimming Pools: Let’s Dive In!

By: Emma Schmidt

VP-Communications, Environmental Health Students Union 

At Concordia, the Environmental Public Health After-Degree works to educate future Public Health Inspectors and Public Health Professionals. The 15-month condensed program is one of only 5 programs in Canada, making it a competitive and fast-paced program. Throughout this time, students are educated on the importance of food safety, waste management and even pool safety! Thanks to funding from the Concordia Students’ Association and the Department of Environmental Health, 31 students were able to take part in a Pool Operation course that allows them to become certified pool operators. The course was delivered by the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance and covers topics such as chemical testing, contamination, filtration and pool maintenance. 

Out of all the facilities that get inspected, pools present unique hazards to human health. Biological hazards such as bacterial growth, transmission of viruses and illness, and growth of mould are common in swimming facilities. This is due to the warm temperatures and moisture, which make them ideal conditions for these microorganisms to flourish. Physical hazards are also present, such as increased risk of slipping on wet pool decks or getting cut on exposed pool tile. Even the chemicals used to keep a pool safe, such as chlorine, phosphates and salts,  can be dangerous if present in too high concentrations or if mixed improperly. 

This is where Pool Operators and Public Health Inspectors come in. It is their job to ensure that all swimming facilities – from whirlpools to waterslides, are safe for those that want to enjoy them. By becoming certified pool operators, CUE Environmental Public Health students are able to provide better guidance to pool owners and maintain the well being of swimmers. In the course, the concept of risk mitigation is emphasized. It is important to be aware of possible hazards, and take the appropriate measures necessary to keep the public safe. If a pool is not able to meet the standards set out by the Alberta Swimming Pool Regulation, they could face charges, fines and even be forced to permanently close. 

Patrons of these facilities can also play a role in keeping them safe. As a swimmer, many of the amenities that we enjoy can be dangerous if not maintained properly. It is important to inform pool staff if you notice any damage to equipment such as water slides, pool surfaces or pool pumps. To know if the pool you want to swim in is safe, important things to look out for can include:

  • An overwhelming chlorine smell – while you may think this is a good sign that the pool is using chlorine to disinfect the water, the smell of chlorine is actually due to the chlorine binding to organic matter (such as urine, sweat and saliva). If the pool smells strongly of chlorine, it may be a sign that the water is not clean. 
  • A lack of signage – a pool that is not properly operated or maintained may not display their pools rules and regulations. This means that both the staff and other swimmers might not be following health and safety rules. 
  • No soap by the showers. One of the most important things you can do to keep swimming pools clean is to shower with soap before entering. All pools need to have soap available for swimmers to use before the swimming pool. If the dispenser is empty – the water may be contaminated from everyone entering without showering. 

Overall, pools are a great way to get exercise and have fun. Just like any public facility they have hazards associated with their use, but by completing routine inspections and maintenance they are able to be safe for all to enjoy. For more information on the Environmental Health program (or swimming pools) feel free to reach out to the Environmental Health Students Union at ehsu@student.concordia.ab.ca.

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