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New research shows that your patrons’ hygiene may be much worse than you think, and swim diapers aren’t helping matters. Experts say two recently released reports underscore the need to better educate patrons on proper pool behavior.

In a survey by the Water Quality & Health Council nearly half of all respondents (47 percent) admitted to engaging in one or more unhealthy pool behaviors. One in five said they have urinated while in a public pool. Approximately one-third forgo a pre-swim shower.

“We did the survey because each year we talk about how it’s important for swimmers to be hygienic, and we wanted to get some real numbers on this,” said Linda Golodner, Water Quality & Health Council vice chair and National Consumers League president emeritus. “It shows ... this is a problem. People are not being hygienic when they go in the pool.”

Research suggests that when mixed with chlorine, urine and other body fluids can form disinfection byproducts that cause respiratory problems and other symptoms.

Michele Hlavsa, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said she and her colleagues weren’t surprised by the studies. “In fact, we suspect the actual percentage of people who pee in the pool could be higher and only 17 percent admit to doing it. ... Swimmers don’t always see the connection between their behaviors and the quality of the water they swim in,” Hlavsa noted.

Separate research shows pool operators and parents need to think twice about swim diapers. Researchers tested various types, including disposables and reusables with and without vinyl diaper covers, and found swim diapers don’t prevent the spread of the recreational water illness cryptosporidium. Simulating the release of disease-causing microspheres the team led by Dr. James Amburgey of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, found swim diapers release approximately 50 percent of the microspheres within one minute. Vinyl diaper covers lower the rate to about 25 percent.

Amburgey said swim diapers are effective on dry land, but once a child is in the water, “the take-home message is, these things don’t hold in the crypto. I think swim diapers provide a false sense of security. We need to develop products that work or technologies that will remove the crypto.”

The study was funded by the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo. “The biggest bottom line for us is, it reinforces that educating consumers and making sure they don’t get in the water when they have diarrhea is still paramount,” said Tom Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of NSPF.