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Swimmers' safety partly in the hands of county health departments

By Ed Brock

Sharon Smith has to make sure that those who come to swim at the pools in Starr Park aren't diving into an ocean of bacteria.

As the park's certified pool operator, Smith has to maintain the right chemical balance in the Forest Park facility's indoor and outdoor pools, among other duties. For example, the pool's pH balance of a swimming pool (the term expresses the balance between alkalinity and acidity) should be between 7.2 and 7.8, Smith said.

She's taken the National Spa and Pool Foundation's CPO course to learn all the tricks of the trade.

"You have to learn about pool chemistry, how much chemicals to add to the water," Smith said. "You learn about different kinds of filtration, how to size the equipment to the pool."

Usually twice a year the pools, at which about 100 people swim a day, are inspected by the Clayton County Environmental Health Department. Inspectors, like Seth Woodrow, come to each pool to check not only the chemical balance, but also that the safety equipment (floatation devices and pole hooks) are in good condition. He or she also sees that the pool's pump and filtration system are in good order and that the pool water is recirculated every eight hours for older pools and every six hours for newer ones.

"If there is any pool that has public access, we (inspect) it," Woodrow said.

That includes hotel and apartment complex pools as well as communal pools in subdivisions. For private pools the regulations become recommendations, but there is a restriction on the installation of pools at houses that use septic tanks.

"We have to make sure that pool won't interfere with the initial system or the area to be used for a replacement system," Woodrow said.

Woodrow also checks the fencing around the pool to make sure it properly restricts access to prevent accidents. Every pool must be surrounded by a fence that is at least four feet tall and the gates must be self-closing and self-securing.

Each year Woodrow makes one regular inspection and then one surprise inspection midway through the season on pools in his area. There are 240 public pools in the county that fall under the regulations.

In Henry County there are 183 pools, said Glenda Scott, director of that county's environmental health department. The county's one inspector checks out each pool at their seasonal opening at least.

"If there's a problem he goes back and does a follow up," Scott said.

And the opening season has already begun.

"Since April he's been booked," Scott said.

County ordinances also require 4-foot fence around private pools, too, said Dwayne Pinder, manager of Georgia Pool Supply Inc. in Stockbridge.

A private pool can cost anywhere between $18,000 and $28,000 depending on factors like the terrain of the yard and the size of the pool. Pinder's company has been installing pools at houses under construction and pre-existing houses in large numbers recently.

"There are a lot of pools being built right now," Pinder said. "Everything has become automatic," Pinder said. "Automatic pool cleaners, auto "salt systems" that make chlorine."

The CPO course offered by the National Spa and Pool Foundation is 16 hours long and private pool owners can take it as well, Smith said. Go to the foundation's Web site, www.nspf.com, for contact numbers to call to enroll for the course. For more information on pool products, check www.georgiapoolsupply.com.