By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The health hazards of water recreation are easy to overstate. In fact, fatalities are so rare as to be statistical oddities, and it appears there are only two recorded cases of E. coli transmission through chlorinated public pools. Still, these menaces are not to be taken lightly. In the wake of the White Water fecal incident, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 14 states had 26 waterborne-disease outbreaks associated with recreational water in 1993 and 1994, the most recent survey years. More than 1,700 people became ill in the outbreaks. About half those cases involved swimming pools.
The good news is that proper levels of chlorination and a good filtration system easily prevent and eradicate most of these problems, with the exception of Giardia and Crypto, which are more resistant and require superchlorinating if detected.
The bad news is, as Kababjian put it, "You take a shower and just wash your rear end, it's likely to have E. coli in it." The other bad news is, as Kababjian put it, "You're in a pool, and a kid lets go with diarrhea, and it goes in your mouth, there's not much you can do."
Newly developed swimming diapers aren't exactly inspiring confidence, either.
"If I see toddlers in diapers swimming in the same pool I'm in, I get out," Dr. Neil Izenberg, a pediatrician at the Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, recently told The Chattanooga Times. "We have said for years that if a child does not have bowel control, they should not be allowed in public swimming pools."
Despite all this, and despite the White Water tragedy, hysteria is far from warranted. Water parks are like McDonald's: Millions and millions are served, and in both cases an excess of saturated fat is the most dangerous thing you'll run into. In fact, water-park use throughout the United States has gone from 18 million in 1984 to 61 million in 1997, according to the World Waterpark Association (yes, there is a World Waterpark Association, located in that hotbed of water-park activity, Overland Park, Kansas), almost entirely without incident.
"In the 18 years we've been around, we've never seen anything like [White Water]. It's very isolated," said Marci McNeal of the WWA. She also said that when the association gets together for its convention in October, the White Water E. coli outbreak will be a hot topic. "We'll probably have a roundtable discussion about this . . . what have we learned, how can we prevent this from happening again."
A park like Raging Waters or Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Valencia or Wild Rivers in Irvine can host more than 6,000 customers a day. With that many people in the water, I told myself, what are the chances someone's going to shit in my mouth? But, then again, with that many rear ends splashing around like loaded guns, what are the chances someone isn't going to let go with at least a muddy fart? I wanted to know more about what our local parks were doing to keep us safe from the forces of darkness.
Easier said than done. It seems that any news concerning the pathogenic integrity of their operations is bad news, as far as Raging Waters and Hurricane Harbor are concerned. Fervent requests for a guided tour of the maintenance facilities, along with an explanation of how the pool water and chlorine levels are monitored, were repeatedly turned down.
My final plea to Andy Gallardo, spokesman for Hurricane Harbor, ended like this:
Me: "This is bullshit. You're giving me the runaround."
Andy: "I'm sorry you feel that way."
Me: "It's true, isn't it?"
Andy: "Isn't there somewhere else you can go?"
In Andy's defense, he did provide me with a couple of contacts, including the number of the World Waterpark Association, which is more than I can say for the mystifying firm of Lisa Carey Public Relations, which represents Raging Waters. After intense back-and-forth negotiations that would have given Richard Holbrooke fits, this was the final word from Lisa Carey:
"Hello, Joe, it's Lisa Carey getting back to you . . . I want to pass along that Raging Waters will not be able to work with you on this project, and we wish you all the best. Thanks for thinking of us. Bye."
What were they afraid of? What secrets were swimming in the Raging Waters and Hurricane Harbors? As it turns out, probably none. Kebabjian reported that both have recently undergone thorough inspections, and, with the exception of a minor fecal accident during which Hurricane Harbor closed two pools and followed proper safety procedures, both were in good shape heading into the dog days of summer.
Even so, before diving headfirst into a pool of humanity, I wanted some answers. Once again, I turned to Kebabjian.
"What if someone has an open sore or something?"
"That's a touchy subject. There are laws, but it's pretty hard to keep someone out of a pool . . . If someone has a birthmark or a genetic disorder that looks like something and you ask them to get out, you got a lawsuit on your hands."
"What if someone has a festering wound?"
"It would have to be self-policing. What else can they do? Put up a picture and say if you look like this, don't go in?"