Cryptosporidium and spray parks

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Many aquatic facilities have installed zero-depth water features such as splash pads and interactive spray parks in the past few years. Kids love them because they are so much fun. Parents love them because their kids do and because they provide greater safety than a regular pool. Staff loves them because the kids and parents do which results in increased membership and because of reduced exposure to drowning which means less harried lifeguards.

These water features have significant drawbacks that frequently have been inadequately considered before their installation. These issues include the cost of water, re-circulation and sanitation systems, water runoff issues, and disease transmission. Many jurisdictions’ bathing codes insufficiently address sanitation issues in spray parks as was demonstrated clearly at New York’s Seneca Lake State Park where over 5,000 visitors got sick, the worst of several such outbreaks in the summer of 2005. That an incident involving 5,000 victims was only the third worst episode in the U.S. during the last decade shows the extent of the exposure.

Cryptosporidium, often called just crypto, has become recognized as one of the most common causes of waterborne disease within humans in the U.S. The parasite may be found in drinking and recreational water in every region of the country and according to the Center for Disease Control the number of outbreaks of swimming pool-connected diarrhea is increasing. A crypto infection may be life-threatening for an individual with a weakened or compromised immune system and may require hospitalization for children or pregnant women. It is otherwise, though certainly not pleasant, generally not serious.

Part of the challenge is that some jurisdictions do not require additional chlorination of the water used in a spray park. While typically chlorinated water (1 ppm) will disinfect E. coli in less than a minute and Hepatitis A in about 16 minutes, it takes about 9,600 minutes (nearly seven days) to disinfect crypto. Fortunately, regardless of the adequacy or inadequacy of local codes for spray parks, most such installations are found in the shallow end of swimming pools and thus utilize water chlorinated to swimming pool rather than just drinking water standards. Unfortunately, the very nature of this new water attraction aggravates the potential for harm. Swimmers may swallow water when in the pool, some more often than others, but those playing in a spray park are constantly inhaling or ingesting airborne water. The risk of contamination is also increased by less frequent bathroom breaks for small children, and in stand-alone installations, the introduction of contaminants from shoes, animals, and the surrounding area.

If the water for your splash pad is separate from your swimming pool, its water quality should be checked regularly, maintaining the same sanitation standards as for the pool water. If the water for the two attractions is commingled and you do not have an automatic chlorinator, keep a close eye on your levels as they may drop more readily than a stand-alone pool. Make certain that guests utilizing the attraction are dressed appropriately for swimming activity and not wearing street shoes. The area should also be separated by a fence from other outdoor play areas.

As with a swimming pool, a spray park offers fun for guests and benefits for your facility but brings along inherent risks. A spray park requires just as much attention and management as a pool to ensure that the patrons enjoy a safe and sanitary experience at your facility.

Please also see Cryptosporidium and recreational water facilities.

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