Yikes, the dreaded “accident” in the pool! Hopefully you’ll never have to deal with this in your own pool, but in case it does happen, we’ve put together this guide so you can safely handle the incident and everyone can get back to enjoying that crystal clear water.
There’s two possible types of fecal incidents that you could encounter: a formed fecal incident or diarrhea. While both types can be handled without having to drain your pool, they have different risk factors for causing recreational water illnesses so you’ll need to take a few different steps depending on which type you’re dealing with.
The Formed Fecal Incident is the easiest to handle and has the least risk factor for illness-causing germs and parasites like E-coli, Giardia, or Cryptosporidium (“Crypto”). In fact, in a study in 1999 the CDC tested nearly 300 formed fecal incidents that were collected from public pools across the country and none of them tested positive for Crypto, the most stubborn and dangerous germ that spreads recreational water illness. In that study 4.4% of the samples tested positive for Giardia. Based on this, the CDC recommends that if there is a formed fecal incident in your pool, you treat for Giardia, E-Coli, and other germs, but since there is little risk of Crypto with a formed fecal incident, you don’t need to be concerned with treating for it.
For a formed fecal incident, follow these steps:
• Get everyone out of the pool.
• Remove as much of the fecal matter as possible, trying not to break it apart. Do not use your pool vacuum to remove it. Then dispose of it in a sanitary way. Clean the bucket or net you used and then submerge it in the pool so it will be disinfected along with the water.
• Raise the water’s free-chlorine level to 2 parts per million (ppm) or 3 ppm with unstabilized chlorine. With the water’s pH at 7.5 or less, keep the chlorine elevated for 25-30 minutes at 2 ppm or 19 minutes at 3 ppm. During this time, it’s recommended the water temperature is at least 77℉. If your water already has a chlorine stabilizer in it, you’ll want to use a higher free-chlorine level than 3 ppm since the stabilizer slows down how quickly chlorine kills germs.
• Make sure the filtration system is running while the water is raised and maintained at the disinfecting chlorine level.
• Once the disinfection is complete and free chlorine levels are back to normal, you can allow swimmers back in the pool.
Diarrhea on the other hand, has a much higher risk for Crypto, which is an extremely chlorine-tolerant parasite. To be safe, in a diarrheal incident, you’ll need much stronger free chlorine levels, for a longer time period. Do the following:
• Get everyone out of the pool.
• Remove as much of the fecal matter as possible and then dispose of it in a sanitary way. Don’t use your pool vacuum for this. Clean the bucket or net you used to remove the matter, and then submerge it in the pool so it will be disinfected along with the water.
• If your water does not already contain a chlorine stabilizer, raise the water’s free-chlorine level to 10 ppm or 20 ppm with unstabilized chlorine, making sure the water’s pH is at 7.5 or less. For 10 ppm, keep it elevated for 25.5 hours. For 20 ppm, keep it elevated for 12.75 hours. It’s recommended the water temperature is at least 77℉ for this process.
• If your water does contain a chlorine stabilizer, you’ll need to sanitize for a longer time, as the stabilizer slows down how quickly chlorine kills germs. If the cyanuric acid concentration of your water is 15 ppm or less, you can raise the free chlorine concentration to 20 ppm and keep it there for 28 hours. If the cyanuric acid concentration of your water is higher than 15 ppm, you’ll first need to lower that concentration to less than 15 ppm by draining some water and adding fresh water without chlorine stabilizer. Then you can raise the free chlorine level to 20 ppm for 28 hours.
• Make sure the filtration system is running while the water reaches the disinfection free-chlorine level, and the entire time the level is elevated.
• After the disinfection is complete, backwash the filter well. Be sure to discharge directly to waste, and follow local regulations. If needed, replace the filter media.
• Once chlorine and pH levels are back to normal, you can allow swimmers back in the pool.
Of course, prevention is much preferred to cleaning poop from the pool! Remind all swimmers to never enter the pool if they have a stomach bug or have had diarrhea recently. Encourage kids to use the bathroom before swimming, and remind them to take bathroom breaks periodically.
If you have any questions about raising your pool to the proper free-chlorine levels, contact us, and remember, we carry all the water chemicals you need for this type of incident, or your regular water balancing!