'Tis the season of the swimming pool, and here at Shots we've been patronizing our local public pools to escape the heat. One can't, however, frequent a pool without eventually contemplating its cleanliness, especially during a heat wave, when it's packed with people of all ages.
And you're bound to run into some unpleasant truths if you start digging into pool cleanliness. We learned, for example, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this year that unhealthy pools are surprisingly common: About 1 out of 8 public pools inspected in 13 states in 2008 violated health codes and had to be immediately closed.
The main problem is that chlorine and pH levels get out of whack and can lead to diarrhea and ear and skin infections. A good chlorine level is between 1.0 and 4.0 parts per million (ppm), while the pH should be between 7.2 and 7.8. Together, they keep bad bacteria at bay: If pH goes up too high, chlorine's germ-killing power deflates.
Chlorine can also get eaten up if a lot of nitrogen (from debris, pee, sunscreen, or sweat) or other organic matter gets in the pool. That's why the CDC and others urge pool owners and managers to test chlorine and pH levels all the time — they can change day to day based on pool usage.
Turns out musician David Was, an NPR commentator and musician of the group Was (Not Was), was concerned about his own pool and tried to take maintenance into his own hands to save money. He describes it today on All Things Considered:
Before plunging in, I had to take a sample of the new water down to the pool supply shop and have it analyzed. A hundred bucks later, I was swirling jugs of something called muriatic acid and chlorine into the cement-pond. The follow-up test went no better. I spent another 50 on a sack of conditioner, a gallon of water clarifier and two quarts of algae control. I had turned into a cold-blooded serial killer of single-celled microorganisms.
The next day, I did what I should have done in the first place. I went to Craigslist and found myself a fastidious, 62-year-old Korean man — a former pro baseball player, as it turns out — who vacuumed the leaves from the bottom of the pool and adjusted the chemicals while his wife watered our roses and tidied up the garden. For 75 bucks a month, I'll look forward to seeing the Kim family every Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Was's new pool man sounds like a reliable guy, but if you're worried about your local pool, the Water Quality & Health Council will send you a free pool test kit.