If you watched the diving at the Rio Olympics, you may have been entertained by something other than the athletes’ efforts – the fact that the diving pool turned a bright green! This likely posed a number of health risks for divers. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the pool operators who received worldwide attention for their failure to manage the pool water quality under the brightest possible international spotlight.
The Rio 2016 local organising committee initially blamed an algal bloom. Although FINA (the international governing body of swimming) later issued a statement indicating that the pH was incorrect as the operators had run out of chemicals to dose the pool. The local organising committee finally stated that a contractor added 80 L of hydrogen peroxide to the pool, and that this neutralised the chlorine and allowed organic contaminants to build up. Regardless of the exact reason, frequent monitoring of the water quality coupled with proper operation of the facility should have prevented this from occurring. The same goes for swimming pools everywhere.
In Queensland water quality in public swimming pools comes under the Public Health Act 2005, as poorly operated or maintained pools can be a significant source of disease. Bligh Tanner is currently working with the Water Unit at Queensland Health to update the “Water quality guidelines for public aquatic facilities”. These will replace the current “Queensland Health Swimming and Spa Pool Water Quality and Operational Guidelines (2004)”.
These guidelines needed to be updated to: reflect improved knowledge and practices in the industry; provide guidance for new types of facilities (splash pads, etc.); and to support greater consistency across other state guidelines. While these guidelines are not mandatory (in a legislative sense), Queensland local governments have the option to “call up” these guidelines through their local laws.
The primary risks associated with pools are pathogens such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia (causes of severe gastro), as well as bacteria and viruses. Ideally an aquatic facility will use both a primary and secondary disinfectant with automatic dosing and control, have filtration capable of removing Cryptosporidium oocysts, and maintain well-balanced water. Pool operators should be appropriately trained and undertake regular water monitoring to ensure that all chemical levels are correct and dosing is functioning as required. Bligh Tanner is helping Queensland Health balance technical correctness with ease of implementation, while at all times considering the public health implications of a poorly operated facility.
With the help of the new guidelines, we can be confident that we are doing our best to ensure that Queensland’s pools and aquatic facilities are healthy places to swim, and that our aquatic athletes at the 2018 Commonwealth Games will be healthy and fit for a record gold medal haul!