Dangerous Dip - National Stadium pool among many exposing Jamaicans to germs
Thousands of Jamaicans are swimming in public pools, at schools, clubs and even the National Stadium, which have not been approved by the Ministry of Health.
The lack of certification means that swimmers could be exposed to many types of bacteria which can survive quite happily in pools and circulate among different users to spread illness.
At the last check, only seven of the 37 public pools now operating in Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine have been certified as safe by the Ministry of Health.
Swimming in chlorinated pools, particularly indoor pools, might put children and even adults at higher risk for developing respiratory illnesses, including asthma and hay fever.
In addition, there is evidence that disinfectant by-products - formed when chlorinated water is mixed with microorganisms, human body fluids, cosmetics, and sunscreen - can damage persons' DNA and increase their risk of cancer.
Emergency medical technician and national coordinator for the Jamaica Life Saving Society, Norman Fraser, raised the dangers of swimming in pools not given a clean bill of health by the health ministry recently.
According to Fraser, checks he made last year with the Public Health Department revealed the alarming figure about the high number of public pools not certified.
"I have identified between St Catherine and Kingston and St Andrew as many as 37 pools that people use with only seven certified," said Fraser.
The pool at the National Stadium (Independence Park), where thousands of persons swim each year, is one of those yet to be certified.
When contacted, Raymond Hall, the facilities manager for the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica, admitted that they are still trying to satisfy the requirements to get a permit from the Ministry of Health.
"From time to time, you might have things on a work plan that they give you, and you might correct some and you might have some working, but afterwards, some other ones come up and you have to just deal with them," said Hall.
Under the Public Health (Swimming Pools) Regulation, swimming pools open to the public, or those operated at a hotel having more than 100 rooms for the use of its guests, must have a valid permit issued by the medical officer. These permits should be displayed in a conspicuous location on the premises.
The act also stipulates that nobody should operate a public swimming pool unless they have obtained a supply of chemicals
and testing devices that are sufficient to operate the pool; written emergency and standard operational and usage procedures; appropriate emergency equipment; adequate personal liability and accident insurance; and the services of trained lifeguards who are licensed by the National Resources Conservation Authority.
Fraser is encouraging parents to be more inquisitive and ask pool operators to show their permits before they pay for swimming lessons. There are currently several schools offering children swimming lessons at a cost to parents, either at swimming pools operated on the school compound or at other facilities.
Several private homeowners have also been making huge bucks from hosting pool parties on their premises but none of their pools are certified by the health ministry, while most operate without the most basic safety standards, such as a trained lifeguard.
One heavily advertised pool party held in the upscale Hope Pastures community in St Andrew invited persons to beat the heat in a pool by paying $1,000 (presold) or $1,500 at the gate.
Fraser admitted that he, too, has come across some of these invitations and expressed concern about the possible heavy consumption of alcohol at these pool parties without any emergency health personnel in attendance.
"Every summer it starts. From June until September and then around Christmas it picks up again," said Fraser, as he lamented the dangers that the authorities allow to take place as they allow persons to "eat a food".
Efforts to get a comment from Kingston and St Andrew Chief Public Health Inspector Aubyn Killingbeck were unsuccessful, as questions emailed to his office more than two weeks ago are yet to be answered.