There are more than 9.7 million residential and public-use swimming pools in the U.S., according to industry analysts. Preventing recreational water illnesses and helping to stop germs from getting in the pool in the first place is a public health safety issue.
In response, scientists at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health are working on new research to improve methods for testing water quality in swimming pools and spas.
Environmental microbiologist Kelly Reynolds, an associate professor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health, has been awarded a $65,459 grant to develop standardized questions that researchers can use when performing a health impact study on pools and spas. The grant is from the National Swimming Pool Foundation and the Research Foundation for Health and Environmental Effects.
Several high-profile studies have suggested that exposure to aquatic environments may increase risk of asthma, cancer and other serious diseases. These studies often lack information on how the pools were managed and treated, and details of swimmer exposure. As a result, it is impossible to apply the findings to other pools or to reproduce and verify the studies.
"Proper study design and data collection tools are of utmost importance for accurately estimating health effects related to swimming – and for assuring the development of appropriate policy and regulation to improve public health," Reynolds said.
Reynolds added that current survey tools lack assessment of a variety of contributing swimmer-exposure factors, including activities associated with site- or scenario-specific events such as length of swim, volume of ingested water and number of head submersion events that can increase exposures to potentially harmful chemical or microbial contaminants in the water.
"The outcome of this project will be a database of questions that can be used in future epidemiological research and outbreak studies. The tool will be widely disseminated and available to researchers, enabling consistent collection of swimming pool and spa exposure data for future comparisons," Reynolds said.
Study collaborators from the Zuckerman College of Public Health include assistant professor Kacey Ernst, professor Charles Gerba and doctoral student Laura Suppes.
Ernst is co-investigator on the project and will assist with questionnaire development and the epidemiological study design; Suppes is a certified pool operator and registered environmental health specialist who will aid in the assessment of pool operations and their relationship to recreational waterborne disease risks.
Gerba will assist with the recruitment of an expert review panel to critique the developing questionnaire.