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Swim safely with advice from faculty expert in College of Public Health

It’s that time of year. The sun is shining, and the Georgia heat is beckoning you to the pool. The next time you’re soaking in some rays and floating in the water, be sure to thank an environmental public health inspector.

Faculty expert and alumnus Chris Rustin (‘04, ‘13), DrPH, REHS, has worked on data analysis with the Georgia Department of Public Health for years to determine the biggest health and safety risks associated with public pools. Rustin worked with his colleagues to prove that semi-public community pools, such as those in apartment complexes and neighborhoods, are most frequently cited as being out of compliance for state/local health and safety codes.

As former director of Environmental Health for the Georgia Department of Public Health, Rustin and colleagues were able to publish findings from a cross-sectional study of health inspection risk-factor data from a full year, and is using that data to help educate policy makers as well as the public. Research shows that the biggest risks for community pools include lack of disinfection chemicals, which kill microorganisms, improper pH, which can irritate the eyes and reduce efficacy of chlorine disinfection, and lack of barriers to prevent drownings.

Of the state’s roughly 9,200 public, government-inspected pools, 55 percent are apartment, condominium and neighborhood pools. Of those 55 percent, Rustin looked at specific areas of concern including water chemistry, pH balance and pool barriers. Rustin’s research showed 39 percent of waterborne diseases investigated in the state from 2001-2014 occurred in pools regulated by public health officials, including public and semi-public pools.

“When there is a small body of water with a lot of people in it, bacteria and disease can spread rapidly,” he said. “Public health officials can put controls in place to quickly stop an outbreak for inspected pools.”

Rustin noted that this research would not have served the public and legislatures as well had it not been published.

“So much of the research on public pools has gone entirely under the radar,” he said. “Public health officials analyze data collected to make decisions on protecting the public, but don’t always have time or resources to publish the data — they’re more focused on completing the inspections  and taking action. By teaming up with academia, however, we can use these data to educate the public and make our communities safer for everyone.”

Before you dive into a pool this weekend, consider Rustin’s advice to stay safe:

  • Hygiene matters: Everything on your body (and other swimmers’ bodies) from sunscreen to deodorant ends up in the pool. Shower before getting in the water to keep the water clean and allow the chlorine to do its job, and shower after swimming to protect your skin.
  • Keep it clear: If the water looks cloudy, do not get in. You should be able to see to the bottom of a pool and ensure the drains covers are secured and in good condition.
  • Keep it safe: Watch for exposed wires in pool lighting, glass on the deck and any other safety hazards.
  • Report it: If you notice an unclean or unsafe pool, report the problem to management for your own safety and for those around you. It is management’s responsibility to keep the pool up to code.
  • Prepare for emergencies: Verify that there is a lifeguard on duty. If not, locate the pool safety equipment before getting in the water, and use a hardwired pool phone to contact 911 with your exact location.
  • Never swallow pool water: The germs, bacteria and chemicals in pool water get into your system and can make you ill.
  • Wear sunscreen: Always protect yourself! Reapply often, and cover your entire body.

Rustin stresses to his students the importance of conducting research and sharing findings with the public.

“I’d like to highlight the fact that Georgia Southern offers an entire program in public health — from bachelor’s to doctorate,” said Rustin. “Anyone with interest in protecting their community and educating the public should really consider a job in this field. Not only do environmental public health inspectors keep your pools safe and clean, but they also inspect public lodging, waste disposal, restaurants and tattoo facilities. This field is so important.”

For more tips on how to stay healthy in a public pool, visit https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/steps-healthy-swimming.html.

To learn more about the College of Public Health, visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu/JPHCOPH.

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/Research University founded in 1906, offers 119 degree programs serving 20,673 students. Through eight colleges, the University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs built on more than a century of academic achievement. Georgia Southern is recognized for its student-centered and hands-on approach to education. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.

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