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
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
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
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
Concern: The MAHC will turn the aquatics industry upside
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