Anyone in aquatics who doesn’t already know the name Dr. Michael Beach soon will. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s associate director for healthy water, Beach is one of the nation’s foremost experts on recreational water illnesses. He’s also a leading force behind the creation of the Model Aquatic Health Code.
“I think it was something I knew had to happen, and that CDC had to push it,” says Beach, who started at CDC in 1989 and gave his first presentation on recreational water illnesses in 1997.
A major aquatic nemesis — cryptosporidium — started him in the area of recreational water illnesses. “It opened my eyes,” says Beach, who’s been instrumental in understanding and combating the rise in crypto outbreaks over the past five years.
The crypto work led to an understanding that to improve public health and safety, the focus had to go beyond one parasite. The idea of the MAHC, a comprehensive set of guidelines based on science, began to take shape at a 2005 conference on recreational water illnesses. Beach helped organize the conference with CDC colleague Charles Otto.
“We needed a more systems-based approach to combat recreational water illnesses,” says Beach, now a MAHC Steering Committee member.
Following the 2005 conference, he found support for the project at CDC and initial funding — in the form of a grant from the National Swimming Pool Foundation — and work began, using the previously developed Model Food Code as a guide. This initial effort then resulted in further funding from CDC.
The MAHC was always meant to be a kind of living document, but an initial draft is expected in the next year or so. As with the Model Food Code, MAHC is grounded in science and involves individuals from all areas of aquatics. As volunteers on the various committees move toward completing the code, it’s also raising new questions and setting the research agenda for the next several years.
“Initially, I thought it would be done faster but I’m always overly optimistic,” Beach says. “Long after we retire, this will probably be the single greatest thing that we’ve contributed.”