Safety and The Spa: Part III: Pool Sanitation

The issue of water sanitation will become an increasingly hot issue with spa directors. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that outbreaks of disease connected with swimming pools are on the rise. Spa tubs can be even more dangerous than pools, (the high water temperature of hot tubs causes chlorine to evaporate faster.)

Each individual state identifies bodies of water using its own classification system. For example, the state of New Mexico classifies three types of pools: A 'Class A pool' is a public swimming pool, admission to which may be gained by the general public; a'Class B pool' is a public swimming pool on the premises of or part of a business, such as hotel, recreation camp, country club or similar establishment; and a 'Class C pool' is a shallow public swimming pool having a maximum depth of two feet.

Bodies of water are further classified as 'fill-and-draw public bath'--where cleanliness of water is maintained by complete removal and replacement of the water after each use--and 'flow-through public bath' where cleanliness of the water is maintained by circulation of water through the pool from some natural or developed source, but where the out-flowing water is discharged. (Natural mineral springs and artesian wells fit the latter category.)

Skin infections are the most common infections spread through hot tubs and spas, however contaminated recreational water can cause a variety of diseases such as diarrhea, ear, and upper respiratory infections. To minimize these risks, State health departments in the United States require certain levels of chlorine and Ph. Chlorine must be maintained at proper levels to kill most germs. Although chlorine does not sterilize the water (make water germ free), it does a good job of killing most germs. However, a few germs can survive normal pool, hot tub, and spa levels of chlorine for several hours to days.

The issue of sanitizing the many bodies of water in a spa is often a problem for spa operators. The Claremont Inn & Spa formerly used a pool maintenance program based on utraviolet light with small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which bind contaminants together so they will be carried out by filtration. Even though no chlorine was needed, the spa returned to traditional sanitation methods because of cost and regulatory restraints. 'Most states regulate the levels of chlorine instead of testing for bacteria count, which is a somewhat archaic method,' says Eva Jensch of Spa Concepts International.

Toxic chemicals such as chlorine and bromine can also cause harm to employees and the planet. 'We are constantly balancing the need to follow regulations with the desire to be kind to the environment,' says Kathy Nelson, Spa Director of Kabuki Gardens in San Francisco, CA. Because of these concerns, many spas are opting for alternative, lower-risk forms of bathing. Especially popular will be treatments that allow an individualized bathing experience, thereby minimizing contamination. 'The more we co-mingle people's ecologies, the more difficult it becomes to properly clean the water,' says researcher and micro-terrain ecologist Carlos Sebastian. Sebastian is the inventor of AIRR Club, a bathing system that delivers an individual menu of healing substances to the body while floating vertically in an 'envelope.'