How local pools handle poop
August 4, 2008
ASPEN ” It happens more often than anyone wants to talk about and goes by many names.
Fecal-matter incidents at area swimming pools are known colloquially as floaters, pool sharks, Baby Ruths or “code browns.” Whatever it is called, the situation inconveniences swimmers and creates big hassles for recreation department staff.
Just last week there were two accidents at Basalt’s public pool, and recreation officials in Aspen and Snowmass Village both say the health hazard is common. There was at least one “code brown” report last week at the Aspen Recreation Center, better known as the ARC.
Prevention means offering diapers and encouraging parents with young children to keep an eye on their kids. And cleanup means all (gloved) hands on deck, said Tim Anderson, the city of Aspen’s recreation director.
“We’ve got to close down and clean the pool,” he said.
His staff follows strict state standards, evacuating the pool for about an hour in order to sprinkle granular chlorine at the incident site and completely recirculate the pool water through a filtration system.
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“The chlorine levels we are required to keep will kill everything,” Anderson said, and state regulations are really “above and beyond.”
And while he said chlorine alone is enough to keep swimmers safe, filtering pool water provides an extra “comfort level” to patrons.
Even with the ARC’s proactive stance, “it’s a nuisance,” Anderson said.
It’s not babies who cause the cleanups, but older children, usually ages 8 to 10, he said.
Water features, such as water jets, fountains and slides, can have an “enema effect” and might be a contributing factor to incidents, Anderson said.
But there’s never an investigation.
“We really never know who it is,” he said, adding the obvious: “Nobody ever owns up to it.”
Nor is there an inspection.
“We don’t have any inspection through the health department,” said C.J. Oliver, senior environmental health specialist with the city of Aspen.
Public pools are regulated in accordance with state standards, Oliver said, and any action is complaint-driven.
The ARC has a certified pool operator on staff who monitors everything from bacteria to pH levels, and who is trained in handling emergency cleanup.
“They’re constantly monitoring disinfectant levels and pH levels,” Oliver said.
Oliver differed slightly with Anderson, however, saying that chlorine alone won’t keep swimmers safe, and that evacuation and filtration after any incident are important.
“It obviously happens more than we would like it to, and once is too many times,” said Andy Worline, parks and recreation director for the town of Snowmass Village.
The public pool in Snowmass Village issues a “code brown” once every few weeks on average, and it takes 30 minutes to clean and filter the pool, Worline said.
Snowmass pool staff check chlorine levels three times each day, and Worline said that unlike at the ARC, water features at the Snowmass pool ” including a water arch that shoots water from a jet outside of the pool into the pool as well as a low-pressure “bubble rock” ” are on the deck, not in the water.
“We don’t get a lot of problems with that,” Worline said.
Worline said there is a certain shame factor to the cleanup.
“Usually we make a big production of what we’re doing,” Worline said.
An announcer trumpets the bad news over a public address system and calls for evacuating the pool, Worline said, adding, “I would hope that that works a little.”
Sometimes staff observe a family get up and leave during a cleanup incident, but Worline said, “No one ever comes up and says ‘Hey, it was me.'”