Recreational Facilities : Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education, Building and Equipment Safety

Protecting Against Recreational Water Illness

Recreational water illnesses are spread by contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, spas, and hot tubs.

Contaminated recreational water can cause a variety of illness such as diarrhea, and eye, skin, ear, and respiratory infections.

Infectious Recreational Water Illness

Recreational water illnesses, such as eye, skin, ear, and respiratory infections, are caused by microorganisms found naturally in the environment.

For instance, swimmers rash is caused by a bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) commonly found in the environment. Swimmers rash is spread by direct contact with contaminated water and is the most common recreational water illness spread through spas and hot tubs (although it is also spread through contaminated pool water).

Diarrhea Recreational Water Illness

This illness is caused by microorganisms such as E.coli 0157.H7, Shigella, Giardia and Cryptosporidium (Crypto) that have entered the spa or hot tub (or pool) through fecal material that has washed off users.

If a person swallows water that has been contaminated with feces he or she may become ill.

Operators, once aware of a recreational water illnesses, should immediately

  • contact their local Public Health Office to report the illness
  • make sure appropriate clean-up procedures are followed

Making Your Spa / Hot Tub Safe

The high water temperature of spas and hot tubs encourages rapid growth of bacteria. The high water temperature also causes the chlorine to evaporate more quickly than in a swimming pool.

The best way to kill microorganisms in spa and hot tub water is by measuring and adjusting the chlorine and pH levels.

Therefore, it is important for staff to check and adjust the chlorine or other disinfectant level more often than pools.

Unfortunately, even in the best-maintained spas and hot tubs (and pools) some organisms can survive for a long time.

Reducing the Risk of Recreational Water Illnesses

  1. Make sure staff know the proper way to maintain pool water quality (especially chlorine and pH) and to ensure equipment is operating correctly. Make sure staff are water testing and recording readings as required and that they know how to respond if disinfectant levels are not adequate.
  2. Maintain disinfectant and pH levels at
    a. Free chlorine residual of 3.0 - 5.0 ppm
    b. Bromine residual of 3.0 - 5.0 ppm
    c. pH between 7.2 and 7.8
  3. At the end of each day scrub the sides of the hot tub or spa to break up any scum layer then "shock" by raising the disinfectant to the equivalent of 10 ppm chlorine.
  4. Wash and disinfect the pool deck.