• Credit: Dougherty Valley Aquatic Center

The first pool- and spa-related model code to be written by the federal government is about to enter its final phase, and the public will be given its last chance to present feedback.

The Model Aquatic Health Code, being coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is being written in response to an increase in recreational water illness that has occurred in the past decade. While that was the original inspiration, officials decided to broaden the scope of the code. The MAHC now addresses all aspects of public pools, from design and construction to water quality to staffing requirements. It was partially funded through a grant from the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

MAHC is not a federal law like the Virginia Graeme Baker Act. Rather, the wide-ranging document can be adopted by states and municipalities at their own discretion, in the same way as model codes generated by the International Code Council and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. Local governments can adopt the MAHC in full, modify it or just incorporate parts of it into existing codes.

The CDC assembled 15 committees, composed largely of volunteers, to write the document. Members are from a variety of disciplines, including pool and aquatics design and operations, health officials, association staffers and scientists.

Fourteen of the committees were placed in charge of writing a document, called a module, covering different subject areas. Those included facility design and construction; recirculation systems and filtration; disinfection and water quality; risk management and safety; facility maintenance and operation; monitoring and testing; contamination burden; hygiene facilities; fecal/vomit/blood contamination response; operator training; lifeguarding and bather supervision; regulatory program administration; ventilation and air quality; and preference/user guide/definitions.

A steering committee was put in charge of reconciling any contradictions and overlap between the modules.

Soon the public will be given its final chance to comment on the work. Over the past few years, a draft of each module was released for comment and the CDC has been deciding how to address concerns raised by the public. The sections will be woven into a single document and made available for review, which is expected to take place as early as February. This public comment period will last 60 days.

The finished code is expected to be published in late 2014.

Those involved in writing the guidelines want to see requirements for public pools standardized around the country. “We are a contractor working in multiple states, and the codes vary quite dramatically from state to state,” said Rob Morgan, president of Dallas-based Sunbelt Pools.

“My hope is that the MAHC would ultimately be adopted in multiple states and … get the codes consistent, and also that the code would be based more on science and good practice rather than ‘We’ve done it this way since Noah,’” added Morgan, who also worked on the Design and Construction Module.

Others expect the new codes to be universally sound rather than based on local bias. For instance, the last version of the Disinfection and Water Quality Module proposed free available chlorine levels of at least 1 part per million.

“[Currently] you see differences in local codes,” said Roy Vore, BioLab’s technology manager who served on the Disinfection Water Quality Committee. “In Pennsylvania, you can have 0.4 ppm chlorine; in Delaware, you could have 0.5. But in Jersey it’s 1.0 minimum. Frankly, the bacteria being killed at 1 ppm don’t recognize the state lines.”

The language is not expected to have much of an effect in states that are already heavily regulated, such as California. However, officials in the Golden State have already begun borrowing from the not-yet-published code by incorporating language from the initial drafts into its own code relating to the maintenance and operation of public pools, Title 22.

Instead, officials and volunteers say the prime candidates for the MAHC are states with little to no regulation, those following outdated codes, or that simply don’t have the budgets to develop their own.

But even in states that don’t adopt the MAHC, Vore expects the model code to affect individuals or companies that are sued in the case of an accident. “The MAHC is establishing a widely available [set of] best practices,” he said. “If somebody is operating a public facility, ignorance of the MAHC is not going to be an effective defense in case of an accident.”

To learn more about the MAHC and what has been produced so far, go to http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/mahc/index.html.