(WIAT) — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of health departments in the country neither regulate, inspect, nor license public pools.
Even for those cities with departments that do check pool safety, many lack the necessary enforcement tools to penalize pool operators who don’t follow regulations short of a lawsuit.
Take Jefferson County for example. Right now, around 500 commercial pools are open for business in the county, and one man is in charge of making sure they’re safe.
Brian Debrow, public health engineer, is in charge of inspecting those pools for the county. In hot summer months, he hires interns to meet the opening inspections rush.
“By the end of June, every pool in Jefferson County will be inspected,” Debrow said.
One in eight public pools across the United States closes immediately on routine inspections because of critical health and safety problems, according to the CDC.
Problems like improper chlorine levels that could lead to outbreaks of waterborne illness. Inspectors also find that some complexes lack self-locking gates and proper fencing to prevent small children from gaining unsupervised access that could lead to drowning.
“If a critical item is observed that is not as it should be, then that calls for a pool closure until it can be corrected,” Debrow said.
On rare occasions, the health department will post a sign to that effect.
“When you put that ssign-upand everybody sees it, that is saying something is not right and therefore the patrons start asking questions,” Debrow said.
The system is set up where residents have to call and get that information during business hours, because whatever needs to be corrected isn’t posted online where the health department lists its swimming pool scores.
However, the scores that pools receive during their inspection may be a little unclear as the 1 to 100 scale does not list reasons pools lost points.
“A 98, very few problems they only lost a couple of points,” Debrow explained. “A 55, probably a number of things were found to be a problem.”
Though that may seem simple, it could lead to more confusion.
“You could actually have a 95 and your pool could be closed,” Debrow said.
For swimming pools, there is enforcement from the county lodging program for action at hotels that fail inspections, but not at places like apartments or clubs
Though Debrow and other engineers seek voluntary compliance, their only way of bringing outliers within the law is through legal action.
An action in and of itself that raises the question for people living in places with public pools why the county has a regulation it seemingly can’t enforce.