As the sweltering Central Florida summer drags on and families seek relief in swimming pools at public parks, apartment complexes, residential communities, gyms, and hotels, Andrew Burns is hard at work trying to keep swimmers safe.
He and his teammates at the Florida Department of Health are tasked with inspecting all public pools in Orange County at least twice a year.
"It is not uncommon to fail a pool or to close a pool," said Burns, who has the authority to shut down a pool until corrective action is taken.
Over the past year, only 62 percent of pool inspections resulted in a satisfactory rating in Orange County, records show. In many other cases, inspectors found the pools to be unsatisfactory or posed such a potential safety hazard they had to be closed.
The most common violation Burns encounters is inadequate levels of chlorine, which is necessary to kill harmful bacteria.
"There are certain diseases you can get from pools if they're not maintained properly," said Burns, who recently had to close the swimming pool at the Holiday Inn Express near Universal Orlando due to lack of chlorine. The hotel was allowed to reopen the pool a few hours later once the proper level of disinfectant has been restored.
"Florida has strong sun and heavy pool use, which all depletes chlorine pretty well," said Burns. "Even the best pools can sometimes have a bad day, so it's good to make sure the equipment is running appropriately."
Burns begins his inspections by checking the pool's maintenance log. He then heads for the pool deck, where Burns makes sure there is adequate rescue equipment such as life ring and hook. After ensuring the pool rules are posted properly, Burns tests the outdoor shower.
"If people go in there very dirty, it makes the chlorine work even harder," said Burns.
Next, the inspector checks the water quality by making sure the pH level is between 7.2 to 7.8. Besides using a water test kit, Burns uses his nose.
"When you smell chlorine, that's not necessarily a good thing," said Burns. Such odor may indicate the presence of organic materials in the water, according to the inspector.
Burns said pool water should always be crystal clear.
"If the pool has some cloudy water, that's screaming there may be a problem with it," he said.
Another major concern for Burns is the grate over the main drain, which typically sits on the bottom of the pool at the deepest end. The grate keeps large objects from being caught in the suction as water circulates into the filters.
"The main drain grate has to be completely intact and working," said Burns. "If any part of that main drain grate is broken, it's automatically 'pool closed.'"
If Burns must close a pool for safety concerns, he typically returns a few days to conduct a reinspection. In most cases the problems are corrected quickly, he said.
"(The owners) are responsible for making sure they're keeping up that pool," said the inspector. "It's very important for them to do it, because it does affect public health."
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