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While the Weather Outside is Frightful, Plan for Pools that are Delightful: Explore the Model Aquatic Health Code

posted on Tue, Jan 6 2015 9:46 am by Kathleen Hoke

This winter is a great time for communities to get ready for the summer swim season with the first edition of the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC). The code is a valuable resource for states and localities committed to reducing health risks by updating or creating pool codes based on the latest science.

Since 1978, the number of illness outbreaks associated with recreational water has increased significantly. Many of these illnesses can be prevented by proper maintenance, water treatment, and updated disease prevention practices. At the request of local and state health departments and the aquatics industry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led a national effort to develop the MAHC to reduce risk for outbreaks, drowning, and other public health concerns occurring at the nation’s public pools and waterparks.

The MAHC is a free resource and is based on science and best practices. State and local health departments can use the MAHC to make swimming healthier and safer and reduce risk for drowning, pool-chemical injuries, and outbreaks of waterborne disease.

The MAHC includes guidelines for:

  • Public swimming pools
  • Pools, hot tubs, and spas in hotels, apartment complexes, and neighborhoods
  • Waterparks
  • Other aquatic facilities

The guidelines address:

  • Design and construction, such as secondary disinfection systems to kill chlorine-tolerant organisms and reduce outbreaks
  • Operations and maintenance, such as lifeguarding standards to reduce drowning
  • Policies and management, such as training for pool operators to reduce pool chemical accidents and pool closures, in addition to other issues

The MAHC is not a federal law but it can become law if adopted by a state or locality. States and local jurisdictions may choose whether to adopt the MAHC in its entirety or to adopt a modified version of the MAHC to address the needs of that particular jurisdiction. According to the CDC, adoption and implementation of the MAHC could reduce risk for:

  • Drowning, a leading cause of injury-related death for children 1-14 years, second only to motor vehicle crashes. Non-fatal drowning can cause brain damage resulting in learning disabilities or even permanent loss of basic functioning.
  • Waterborne illness outbreaks associated with pools, which have increased from an average of 12 outbreaks a year to 41. A single outbreak can sicken thousands.
  • Pool chemical injuries, which cause nearly 5,000 emergency department visits a year. Children account for nearly half of those visits.

For pool regulatory programs or others with an interest in pool codes, this is also the perfect time to review the MAHC. From January 5 to February 19, 2015, the Conference for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC) will be accepting change requests for the MAHC, 2nd Edition. CMAHC is an independent organization working with CDC to facilitate future updates to the MAHC. CDC plans to work with CMAHC to periodically update the MAHC to make sure it keeps pace with the latest science and advances in the aquatics industry. Review the MAHC and offer any suggestions for change that could make the model law better.

In the midst of winter, most of us will be dreaming of lazy summer days by the pool. Using the MAHC, state and local public health officials can get prepared for the busy summer swim season. Explore the MAHC website, which includes the free MAHC code and an appendix setting out the scientific rationale behind the guidance. For an overview of the MAHC, check out this infographic.

This blog post was developed by Kathleen Hoke, Director at the Network for Public Health Law–Eastern Region at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

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 post does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.

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