By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Now, Greg and I were banished from the house. I decided it would be a good idea to sweat out our sins in the vapor caves and follow that with a relaxing dip in the hot-springs pool. My God, what was I thinking? As we climbed down into the bowels of the Earth, the dank, sulfuric air was suffocating. Waiting in every chamber for us to join them were Satan's rejects - asymmetrical limbs, contorted faces, strange protrusions, shorts that were way too short. And we were all seeping into each other along the brackish currents of the cave floor.
I kept my eyes down and tried to think of dry, cool places. But when I looked up to get my bearings, I saw my cousin Greg, red face tilted back in a hideous laugh. I swear he was twirling his tail. Jesus, I thought, it's happening to us! I ran out of the caves and sprinted the 50 yards to the hot-springs pool. Free at last! Free at last! But when my head popped out of the water all I saw were giant reptilian creatures clinging to the sides, thrusting their tongues into the air to catch the snowflakes that were falling from dark skies.
I jumped out of the pool, ran into the showers and let the cold water wash the whole nightmare off me. Just as I was sure that I had finally made it to a safe place, a glob of soap flew from the schlong of the guy who was lathering up across from me and nailed me between the eyes. I changed in the hallway.
In fact, the only good shared-water memory I have is of the little 4-foot-deep raised pool we had in our back yard in Haddonfield, New Jersey. That was a long time ago, back when friends just came with the scenery. But, oh, the fun me and the neighborhood gang had jumping off the picnic table into the pool . . .
"Hey, we should get a camera. One of those waterproof disposable kind," Kelly said as we exited onto the 210 West.
"Huh, what? Oh, yeah. A camera." Camera, sure. But what do they call it on your planet, freak girl?
We were getting close.
I did, of course, want to know what I'd be getting into before actually going.
So I called the L.A. County health department, where Richard Kebabjian is chief of the recreational program for the Environmental Health Division. When I told him what I was up to, he laughed and said that a little information could be a dangerous thing.
"I got an article I'll send you," he said. "I don't know if you're going to want to get in the water after that."
At the time we spoke, a large water park called White Water in Marietta, Georgia, was very much in the news due to an E. coli incident of epic and ultimately tragic proportions.
According to reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, between June 11 and June 18, 26 kids were infected with E. coli, usually benign bacteria residing in the intestines of humans and animals. Unfortunately, some E. coli have evolved into violent strains that produce a toxin that destroys red blood cells and platelets necessary for clotting. This causes cramping, diarrhea and sometimes death. Actually, E. coli kills between 200 and 500 people each year. In most cases, however, an infection in a a healthy adult will be self-limiting, meaning it generally works itself out after a period of flulike symptoms. In the White Water case, those infected were very young.
I asked Kebabjian where the E. coli in the Marietta incident might have come from.
"That would have come from the rear end of a kid, probably," he said.
That's the other thing. Although most often associated with tainted meat, E. coli is ultimately a fecal matter, the ironic evidence being that in the White Water case, the one child who died, 2-year-old McCall Akin, was a vegetarian.
E. coli isn't the only potential enemy lurking in public pools, according to "Disinfection of Public Pools and Management of Fecal Accidents," a Kebabjian article published in the Journal of Environmental Health (July/August 1995). Others include Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a "hardy thermophilic bacterium encapsulated with a slimy coating that makes it more resistant to disinfectants." This silent assassin is frequently responsible for folliculitis and dermatitis. Symptoms of folliculitis include malaise, fatigue, fever and papulopustular rash. Personally, I live with most of these every day, but it's the last one that had me trembling. It sounded . . . unsightly.
Staphylococcus is another bacterium that has earned a place in the waterborne rogues' gallery. This one originates from the pool user's skin and oral and nasal tracts, and "can cause serious skin infections as well as conjunctivitis." Also wanted for liquid crimes against humanity are viruses such as adenovirus and enterovirus and hepatitis A. According to Kebabjian, viruses are more resistant to chlorine than their bacterial playmates and require higher levels to neutralize.
While viruses and oozy secretions are nothing to sneeze at, so to speak, the main concern at the intersection of environmental health and public pools remains fecal accidents. Riding shotgun with E. coli on the Hershey Highway are two other bad guys, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. "Both organisms are protozoans and are transmitted from person to person through [the] oral-fecal route," according to our intrepid health officer. They can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.