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Don't Tread Water, Make a Splash: Promoting Public Health and Safety through the Model Aquatic Health Code

posted on Thu, Aug 2 2012 3:03 pm by Maggie K. Byrne and Jasen M. Kunz

Many families visit public pools and spas year round. In fact, swimming is one of the most popular sporting activities in the United States with over 300 million visits annually to public recreational water venues. Unfortunately, swimming sometimes occurs in facilities with inadequate public health protections. Waterborne disease outbreaks associated with recreational water have increased significantly over the past several decades and drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children 1-4 years of age.

In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sponsored a workshop called "Recreational Water Illness Prevention at Disinfected Swimming Venues.” The workshop assembled individuals from different disciplines working in local, state and federal public health agencies and the aquatics sector to discuss ways to minimize recreational water illnesses (e.g. gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections) resulting from exposure to contaminated water. A key recommendation from the workshop was to develop a data-driven, best practices-based, open-access resource to prevent recreational water illnesses and injuries, and to promote healthy and safe recreational water experiences. This led to the development of the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC).

The MAHC offers guidelines for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of public swimming pools, hot tubs and spas, waterparks and other aquatic facilities. The primary purpose of the MAHC is to protect the public’s health. Specifically, the MAHC is aimed at the following public health outcomes:


CDC, state and local public health officials, and industry developed the MAHC to help local and state health agencies incorporate science-based practices without having to “recreate the wheel” jurisdiction by jurisdiction. The MAHC is being developed as a set of modules on specific topics including operator training, ventilation and air quality, facility maintenance and operation and others. Each module has been developed by a MAHC Technical Committee comprised of volunteers from public health and the aquatics sector (professionals from the swimming pool, hot tub/spa and waterpark industry). Each module is then reviewed, revised and approved by the MAHC Steering Committee. The modules are posted online for 60 days for public comment. In addition, each module has an annex providing context and scientific rationale for the content.

Drafts of the modules are being posted as they become available. An additional goal for the MAHC is to remain scientifically relevant and updated through ongoing stakeholder involvement. A MAHC User’s Guide also will be available to assist public health officials in their efforts to prevent adverse water-related health events.

For more information or technical assistance for the Model Aquatic Health Code, please visit

Wishing you a happy, safe and healthy swimming season!

Learn more about the MAHC by attending the Network’s webinar: Model Aquatic Health Code, on August 16, from 1-2 p.m. ET. 

This blog does not represent the official views of CDC, and does not constitute legal advice. The MAHC is not intended to support or oppose any proposed or pending federal, state or other law.  In all cases, public health officials should consult with their legal counsel for official legal advice.

This blog post was written by Maggie K. Byrne, C.P.H. and Jasen M. Kunz, M.P.H., both with the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.

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