Anyone with a kid – or anyone who was once a child – knows the joy of cooling off in a public spray park on a hot and sticky summer day. They are a great way for pre-swimmers and swimmers alike to have fun while staying safe. Recently, we have been asked about water quality at these spray facilities and how Public Health works to make sure it’s as safe as possible for children. We talked to Becky Elias, Food & Facilities manager, to learn more.
Becky, can you tell us a little bit about the basic rules governing spray parks?
Sure. Our ultimate goal is for people to have safe places to swim, play and be active. Our role is to create conditions that minimize injuries and illness from things like water contamination. For example, spray parks need systems to have safe, clean water, and restrooms equipped with hot water that are available to all guests. This requirement is part of the state water recreation rules because of the potential for the water at these facilities to be contaminated with fecal contaminants or vomit (and dirt). These types of requirements help set up a spray park and the families that use it for success.
How does the water get contaminated?
While pre-potty-trained children must wear swim diapers or tight fitting plastic pants, this is not always failsafe – leaks can occur! By providing an opportunity to wash hands and use the bathroom before going in the pool, it is less likely that a toddler will have an accident, or that a young child will bring in contamination on dirty hands.
Is the water treated to kill germs?
Yes it is. Water treatment helps, but does not eliminate risk of contaminated water. Spray parks typically use recirculated water, which is treated before being sprayed out again. The water is filtered, and treated with chlorine and maybe even UV lights. These treatments are excellent, but they do not “sterilize” the water. These systems work better when there is less fecal material and urine in the water – so that there is less strain on the system to filter and decontaminate.
Who is most at risk?
Young children are at highest risk for illness associated with contaminated water, examples being are E. coli and norovirus. Also, young children – particularly babies and toddlers – have the kinds of behaviors that are most likely to ingest water, including splashing, open mouths and hand-to-mouth behavior. Nobody wants their baby or toddler to be infected with E-coli because they swallowed a gulp of contaminated water! Having hot water and restrooms available will reduce – though not eliminate – the risk.
What can parents do to help keep kids safe?
Encourage children to use the toilet and clean properly before getting in the water. Visiting the bathroom to wash hands and use the restroom prior to getting wet results in less bacteria and viruses contaminating the water, which means the treatment systems will work better.
And though it’s easier said than done, you can also try to remind kids not to use the spray water as a drinking fountain. Remember that the water being sprayed out is recirculated water, not water fresh from the tap.
Finally, if your child is sick, it’s best to keep them out of the water. As always, wash hands after changing diapers, before your hands contact the water spray or your child’s snack.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends children visit the bathroom every 60 minutes and that parents check diapers every 30-60 minutes. See CDC’s advice on avoiding illness at spray pools.
- Read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s information on disease outbreaks and spray parks.
- Learn more about water, sanitation and hygiene.
- Peruse this list of Seattle-area spray parks.
Originally posted August 3, 2017.