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Pools are gross, new CDC study confirms

A fifth of kiddie pools had to be shut down in 2013

West Nile Virus Mosquitoes Return Early To California Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Pools are disgusting. That's the only sane conclusion that can be reached after reading today's CDC report on violations found at public aquatic venues in five states in 2013. Routine inspection conducted that year revealed that 80 percent of public pools, hot tubs, and spas presented at least one health or safety violation. And one of every eight of those venues had to be closed immediately because of a serious threat to public health.

Inspectors identified violations in 80 percent of venues

The inspections detailed in the report took place in Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas. The most common violation was related to improper pH, according to the analysis, which used data from 48,632 public aquatic venues. The next most common health violation was related to faulty disinfectant concentrations. Those might sound like minor things, but from a health standpoint, both are big problems. When water's pH is too high, the disinfecting power of chlorine diminishes, allowing germs to proliferate.

But it gets worse. Of all the pools that inspectors looked at, kiddie pools had the highest proportion of violations that led to closures. The researchers found that a fifth of kiddie pools had to be shut down immediately following an inspection. So kids clearly aren't swimming in the cleanest of waters.

Americans love to swim. In 2009, swimming was the fourth most popular sports activity in the country, according to the US Census Bureau. And for children between the ages of seven and 17, it was the most popular sports activity. About 40 million people over the age of seven went swimming at least six times that year. But even though Americans love to swim, the facilities that they use often fail to complete basic pool safety and health procedures. And that means Americans are getting sick from swimming. Between 2011 and 2012, 90 recreational water-associated outbreaks were reported to the CDC. These outbreaks included ones relating to the bacterium E. Coli and the parasite Cryptosporidium, which can cause people to experience watery diarrhea for around one to two weeks. As a result of these outbreaks, more than 1,700 people got sick in 2009 — and one person died.

To prevent people from soaking in cesspools, the CDC says that people should check for inspection results online or on site before using public pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. The CDC also recommends that people complete their own inspections using a checklist. That's partly because about a third of local health departments don't regulate, inspect, or license recreational aquatic spots, said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, in a statement.

The CDC recommends that people buy their own test strips

Among this handy-dandy list are some good tips, like making sure that the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible. But the CDC also recommends that people should bring their own test strips, which it says can be bought "at most superstores and pool-supply stores." This seems hilariously impractical. But for people who live in areas where a pool-supply store doesn't sound absurd, here are the CDC's recommendations in full:

(CDC)