ERIE COUNTY, NY— Summer weather means that people of all ages are cooling down in pools, ponds, lakes and streams. Swimming for recreation, relaxation or exercise is an inherently healthy activity, but swimming can also pose risks like injury, waterborne illness and drowning.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein shared safe swimming tips and current public swimming pool requirements at a press conference on Monday, July 17.
In terms of public swimming pool requirements, the popularity of private pool rental apps like Swimply that allow property owners to rent their indoor or outdoor pool or hot tub to the public by the hour has raised concerns among county health officials. Public swimming pool operators are required to comply with certain engineering, maintenance, hygiene and supervision standards. Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) public health sanitarians conduct rigorous engineering reviews of public swimming pools, issue permits when appropriate and periodically inspect these facilities.
“Property owners who rent their pools to the public are putting those swimmers at risk,” said County Executive Poloncarz. “And residents who choose to rent these private pools are putting themselves and their guests at risk, too. The last thing we want to see is a catastrophic injury or drowning related to one of these unregulated, potentially unsafe swimming pools.”
“Staying cool and staying safe should go hand-in-hand in the summer,” said Dr. Burstein. “If you are considering offering your pool for rent, or renting an uninspected pool, we urge you to reconsider. The safety and liability risks are not worth the benefits. There are safe public pool options, spray parks, beaches and other places to swim and enjoy the cool water.”
Improperly treated and disinfected pools can lead to disease transmission and chemical reactions. If no restroom is available for the use by swimmers and guests, there are concerns for human waste to be left in or around the pool areas. Engineering requirements are intended to ensure that provisions are in place to reduce the risk of injury. Lifeguard requirements, signage and safety plans are in place to ensure adequate supervision. Generally, a backyard swimming pool or indoor pool at a private residence would not meet public swimming pool standards.
Individuals who rent their private swimming pool to the public without a permit are violating state sanitary code and putting themselves at risk of penalties/fines. New York State allows penalties of up to $2,000 per violation. Complaints about swimming pools operating without a permit can be sent to the Erie County Department of Health Division of Environmental Health at (716) 961-6800. Property owners who would like more information about pursuing a public swimming pool permit can also call (716) 961-6800.
Major swimming hazards include injury, illness and drowning. To prevent waterborne illness and chemical exposures, pool owners should keep equipment like pumps in good working order, and test pool chlorine content regularly.
The New York State Department of Health has these recommendations for swimmers to avoid illness:
• Avoid swimming in water that is cloudy or discolored.
• Avoid swallowing water when swimming.
• Wash your hands after swimming and playing in the sand, especially before eating.
• Don’t pee or poop in the water.
• Stay out of the water if you are sick with diarrhea.
• Stay out of the water if you have an open cut or wound.
Drownings are preventable and can happen in just seconds. More children ages 1-4 years die from drowning than any other cause except birth defects. Further, most drownings in this age group happen in home swimming pools. Swimmers or divers who survive a drowning or head or spinal injury can have permanent neurological and physical disabilities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers these precautions against injury and drowning:
• Assign a water watcher to watch all children swimming or playing in or NEAR water even if the children know how to swim. This person should be 100% focused on supervising swimmers, should not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and should put down his or her cell phone
• Life jackets: Put your child in a properly fitted US Coast Guard approved life jacket when around or near water, such as when visiting a home with a pool.
• Swim lessons. The AAP recommends swim lessons as a layer of protection against drowning that can begin for many children starting at age 1. Learn more here.
• CPR training. Parents, caregivers, and pool owners should know CPR and how to get emergency help. Keep equipment approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, such as life preservers and life jackets at poolside. See erie.gov/cpr
• Check the water first. If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first. This is especially important if your child is prone to wandering.
• Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH)
• Erie County, Stay Cool – Places to Stay Cool: Call ahead for hours/availability.
• ECDOH, Office of Health Equity, Let’s Get Ready for Summer Heat newsletters:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Healthy Swimming
• American Academy of Pediatrics, Healthy Children – Drowning Prevention
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