In response to a series of fecal contaminations that have led authorities in Lethbridge to shut down a community pool nine times since the start of summer, families are being reminded about the health hazards of such incidents.

Since June 13, Henderson Lake Outdoor Pool has experienced three major closures that lasted over an hour and nine shorter closures that took less than an hour to resolve. Nine of those 12 incidents were due specifically to fecal contamination.

Officials with Alberta Health Services say that such situations can be very dangerous for anyone in the pool as germs like e. coli and cryptosporidium can be spread to others.

The most common ways for this to occur is through an ill person failing to shower before going into the water, a sick swimmer having diarrhea in the water, an incontinent person having an accident or children who aren’t toilet-trained having a bowel movement in the water.

Pool staff often learn about the fouling immediately and initiate a protocol to clear the pool but when they don’t, the material can become mixed in the water, creating a risk for those germs to be spread to other pool users.

Fecal contamination incidents also have lasting affects for aquatic centres because according to AHS protocol, they must be closed for 24 hours so staff can clean and sanitize everything that came into contact with the water with high levels of chlorine.

When those efforts last for an extended period of time, officials say they can have an impact on revenue and wages for pool staff.

Health officials have also released the following tips to prevent catching or spreading germs at pool facilities:

  • avoid swimming while you or any member of your family is sick
  • if you plan a picnic at the pool, swim first and eat after swimming and then wait at least 45 minutes before getting into the water again
  • do not swallow pool water
  • use the shower, preferably with soap, before entering the pool
  • ensure that all children who are not toilet-trained are wearing swim diapers that are snug around the legs and waist as well as a similarly fitting plastic cover
  • make sure young children take frequent bathroom breaks and when you need to check diapers, do it in a location away from the pool
  • if you are incontinent, you must also wear swim pants that are snug around the legs and waist as well as plastic pants

In order to help people comply with the rules, the pool operators are offering free liners to those that need them, while supplies last.

Parents who take their children to the facility say they recognize the problem and agree with the preventative measures.

"I don't mind. They said how often it gets closed down because of the issue. We'll throw some pants on her, " said Alycia Poffenroth.

Health officials say that while most dangerous germs are quickly destroyed by the chlorine levels of the pool, others like cryptosporidium can live in treated water for days.

Known as Crypto, the germ can cause diarrhea in animals and humans and is primarily transmitted by swallowing contaminated water. For more information, check the MyHealth.Alberta website.

The Henderson Lake Outdoor Pool holds 1.4M litres of water and is equipped with a special liner that cannot handle chlorine levels higher than 10 ppm. Officials say that with those two factors, it can mean that the pool can be closed for a very long time after each contamination incident.