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It's a swimming pool's dirty little secret: Despite clear water and that clean chlorine smell, one in eight out of 120,000 pools inspected in 2008 were shut down due to problems with cleanliness or safety, according to a 2010 report by the CDC. (There are 8.8 million personal and recreational pools in use in the United States.) Though the CDC says its survey doesn't have enough data for a clear picture of the condition in pools nationwide, that still adds up to uncomfortable odds that, at some point, you're going to be sharing the water with more than your kids.
Here's the dirt: Inspectors immediately shut down 12.1 percent of pools due to serious violations, including lack of disinfectant in the water. Another 10.7 percent received disinfectant levels violations. The biggest culprits were kiddie pools and interactive fountains (which makes sense -- after all, if anyone is going to you-know-what in the pool, it's going to be an undiapered tot!).
It's not just about the gross-out factor, though. Disinfectant violations put swimmers at risk of pool-related illness. In fact, outbreaks from stomach bugs caught in public pools are pretty common; in 2010 USA Today reported that about 15 to 20 occur annually. And when kids and adults pee in the pool (yep, a survey of 1,000 adults done by the Water Quality and Health Council found that 20 percent admit to doing it, too), it degrades the chlorine that's meant to protect us from those nasty bugs.
How can you protect your family when you're taking a dip in your favorite pool? Follow these tips:
Buy a testing kit at a hardware store and test the water in your local pool before swimming. If you swim daily or weekly, consider testing once a month.
Keep kids (and adults) suffering from diarrhea out of the pool. On that note, put babies in swim diapers every time they swim.
Teach kids to avoid swallowing pool water.
Shower before and after swimming. Sweat and sunscreen degrade a pool's chlorine, too.
Wash all swimmers' hands with soap and water after your swim.