In the United States, there is no federal regulatory authority for disinfected recreational venues; all pool codes are developed, reviewed and approved by state and/or local public health officials.
As a result, there are no uniform, national standards governing the design, construction, operation and maintenance of swimming pools and other treated venues. Thus, the code requirements for preventing and responding to illness and injury can vary significantly among agencies.
Indoor air issues, increased outbreaks, chlorine-resistant germs, and new designs and technology challenge public health officials implementing pool codes.
Codes must quickly respond to these changes and protect public health. The Model Aquatic Health Code is intended to transform the typical pool program into a data-driven, knowledge-based, risk-reduction effort to prevent disease and injuries and promote healthy recreational water experiences.
The MAHC process will enable a collective effort to update and revise the MAHC as needed rather than the current situation, where 50 state and approximately 3,200 local health departments work separately to update their codes. The variation in state and local codes also poses challenges for those in the aquatics industry, who must deal with the lack of national uniformity. The MAHC will drive uniformity and ensure that the best available standards and practices are in place to protect public health.
The aquatics industry is not the first to formulate a set of science and data-driven standards with input from stakeholder groups. For decades, the Conference for Food Protection brought together food industry representatives, government and consumers to address food safety issues and develop recommendations.
The product of this partnership is the Food and Drug Administration’s Model Food Code. The CFP holds biennial meetings and the Food Code is regularly updated. The MAHC will adopt a similar process for
updates and revisions.
Let’s address some misconceptions about the MAHC.
Concern: It’s been more than three years since the project started. Where’s the MAHC?
Answer: We’re right on track. The project to create the MAHC is a huge volunteer endeavor and code writers know that this process usually takes years. Our technical committees are working hard to determine and evaluate the rationale behind existing code requirements, research the latest science and data on each topic, and develop model code language that is science-based and data-driven. We are also releasing the MAHC in a modular fashion so that users do not have to wait until the entire project is complete before reading each component. Each module is being posted with a 60-day comment period. After all the modules are posted, we will revise based on the public comments and then post the entire draft of MAHC for another 60 days to give users time to see each module in context with the entire MAHC. After further revision, the MAHC will then be posted as a complete first edition. At this time, we hope to have all modules posted for comment by the end of 2010, to be able to post the first edition for the 2011 swim season.
Why all the public comment periods? We believe this is a critical component of a transparent and inclusive process and that it will result in a stronger model code. Please visit the MAHC Website at www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/mahc/ to see what we have accomplished, and visit www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/pools/mahc/structure-content/ to give input on draft MAHC modules.
Concern: The MAHC will take effect nationally.
Answer: Remember, the MAHC is a model health code that state and local health agencies can choose to adopt in full, in part, or not at all. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which sponsors the MAHC, is not a regulatory agency. However, there will be multiple benefits if the health agencies adopt the MAHC. First, it will bring uniformity by providing the most current, science-based guidelines for design and operation of pools and improve public health. In addition, aquatics professionals who work in multiple jurisdictions that adopt the MAHC will be able to follow a single code, not different codes in different jurisdictions.
Concern: The MAHC will be worse than the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
Answer: The MAHC will not be a federal regulation, nor will it be a federal law like VGB; each state or local jurisdiction will choose if and what to adopt from the MAHC. As noted above, the content of the MAHC is developed by stakeholders — in contrast, VGB was a law passed independently and imposed on them.
Concern: The MAHC will turn the aquatics industry upside down.
Answer: The MAHC will drive code uniformity with the intent to improve operations and public health. We are creating a model code based on science and data that will provide for healthy, safe recreational water experiences for patrons and staffs. Where there is potential for significant impact on the industry, we are taking an “evolution, not revolution” approach. Most design requirements will be for new construction only.
The vision for future requirements, which can have a significant impact, will be clearly explained in the MAHC Annex, so over time we can move toward these goals. Our technical committees are a mix of health officials, aquatic industry representatives, and academia, which enables us to understand the potential industry impact. The public comment period will provide additional opportunity for people to voice concerns and improve the MAHC before its first edition is published. Changes included in the MAHC are data-based and will move aquatics in the direction of improved safety, a goal shared by all participants.
Concern: The MAHC will be retroactive and existing pools will have to make costly upgrades.
Answer: Design requirements typically will only apply to new construction. If there's a significant public health issue with sufficient basis for a new requirement to apply to existing facilities, efforts will be made toward an incremental approach. We also hope that with the MAHC Annex outlining the rationale behind the model code requirements, operators will understand the health and safety reasons for the new requirements and why the changes are a priority.