Dead bird, oily scum in apartment complex pools; state has little power to close

Posted at 8:18 PM, Aug 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-09 09:20:06-04

When Linda Jones needed therapy for her bad knees, she immediately went to her apartment complex’s hot tub.

“I would go every morning, religiously at 10 a.m.,” Jones said.

But, after a few week, she said large bumps started to pop up on her thighs.

“They were itchy, really itchy, there was a lot of them,” Jones said.

Jones visited the doctor who told her the hot tub caused her rash.

She said she told her apartment complex about the problem, but they didn’t do anything about it, so she filed a complaint with the Henrico County Health Department.

Thee person Jones spoke with at the health department “said to me, this happens more frequently than you think,” Jones said.

She said the county found that the problem was an old pipe.

“It wasn`t filtering so all of the germs and bacteria was just sitting there every day,” Jones said.

Through a public information act request, we uncovered dozens of complaints filed in Henrico County about dirty pools and hot tubs at apartment complexes.

They include everything from dead birds, dead frogs, algae, and oily scum to extremely high chlorine levels in the baby pool.

We showed the complaints to Doctor Jeff Bennett who is a pediatrician at KidMed.

“Ugh...what is that?” Dr. Bennett asked about a picture of a dead bird.

Dr. Bennett frequently treats kids with pool-related problems.

“They need to be kept clean, otherwise you can spread illnesses very easily. Specifically, diarrhea illnesses can be a real problem for communities,” Dr. Bennett said.

To that point, Virginia has fairly strict regulations when it comes to certain types of swimming pools in the state.

Julie Henderson with the Virginia Department of Health said the state requires annual inspections of the pools located at hotels, motels and campgrounds.

“We want to ensure anyone that is traveling through and visiting the state, and staying in hotels and motels, that they are being protected,” Henderson said.

But, what about the people who live here, like Macie Brady?

“We go to the pool every day,” Brady said.

We showed Brady, who has three children, the complaints too.

“That makes me want to throw up,” Brady said about the complaints.

The state does not require inspections at apartment complex, fitness center, and community pools in the commonwealth.

“At this point it`s just self-policed really,” Henderson said.

The state does require managers at those pools to post the chemical quality of the water daily, but health inspectors do not go around checking to make sure they’re up an accurate.

Instead, they rely on complaints, and even if they do find a problem, they don’t have much power.

“Let`s say you found extremely high chlorine levels. Could you shut down the pool?” CBS 6 investigative reporter Melissa Hipolit asked Henderson.

“It depends on the establishment. If it`s not a tourist establishment, and it`s just one where we`re making sure they`re monitoring chemicals then no,” Henderson said.

“Even if people are getting sick from the pool?” Hipolit asked.

“Not at this point, no,” Henderson replied.

Research posted on the Centers for Disease Control’s website states as many as 12 percent of inspected pools and 11 percent of inspected hot tubs in the country had to be closed immediately for serious health violations.

That number leaves Jones wanting change in her state.

“I had no idea people would be so lax for something as serious as that. I mean, I was on antibiotics for 14 days. That wasn`t fun. Something needs to be done,” Jones said.

The VDH conducts periodic reviews of its pool regulations, and they have a review coming up soon.

Henderson said they will consider adopting the CDC’s soon to be released Model Aquatic Health Code.

The MAHC would force all public pool operators to obtain a permit through the state, and give the state power to close a pool when a health hazard is discovered.