Why Is There So Much Poop in Swimming Pools?

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By Jon Terbush

Who would've guessed Caddyshack would prove so prophetic?

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half of all public pools had tested positive for E. coli, the bacteria most commonly associated with fecal matter.

In the study, the CDC sampled water from filters in 161 public swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor, in the Atlanta, Ga., area. Of those samples, 58 percent showed signs of E. coli. Though the researchers could not definitively blame human waste for the results, they wrote that it "signifies that swimmers introduced fecal material into pool water."

"It is time to stop treating the swimming pool as a toilet," Michele Hlavsa, head of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program, told NBC. "Nowhere else except for the pool is it acceptable to poop in public or pee in public. In other places if we did this in public, we'd be arrested."

So what's the blame for the stinky problem?

Children, specifically diapered babies and those who aren't toilet trained, can easily introduce poop into the water — a "formed fecal incident," as the CDC kindly calls it. (There's a reason for the kiddie pool.)

However, children aren't alone in fouling the water. The report also faults adults for poor pre-swim etiquette, noting that those who dive in without first properly showering—with soap—can bring traces of fecal matter with them. And just in case you needed another reason not to pee in the pool, the report says that traces of sweat and urine inhibit chlorine's ability to clean water. In short, going number one makes it that much worse when someone else goes number two.

Swimmers ill with diarrhea greatly increase the risk of contamination. So, the report says, you really shouldn't swim in a public pool if suffering from intestinal troubles. Even if there's no sign telling you not to, which was the case at 70 percent of the pools the CDC checked, it's still a bad idea.

Though the CDC confirmed that public pools are pretty gross, they're not necessarily hazardous. Researchers never confirmed any illness related to the pool water, and as the report states, "Results alone cannot be used to determine whether the detected pathogens were viable or infectious or determine the level of swimmer risk."

Plus, the report looked only at pools in the Atlanta area, so the results might not be representative of the country as a whole.

Still, the report asked that everyone kindly use a bathroom when they have to use the bathroom, to ensure that people are the only floaters found in pools this summer.

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