x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Swimming pools shut down over health fears

Inspectors will take action if samples show that swimmers' health may be at risk.

Al Reef pool in Abu Dhabi was closed because its chlorine levels were too high.
Al Reef pool in Abu Dhabi was closed because its chlorine levels were too high.

ABU DHABI // A team of inspectors will check the levels of chemicals and bacteria in community swimming pools after two pools were temporarily shut down for health and hygiene offences.

"The number of pools has increased very fast," said Khaleefa Al Romaithi, the head of public health for the municipality. "Before, you could only find pools at hotels, but every six months now you hear of a new complex."

Inspectors will regularly check all multi-use pools, testing chemical and bacterial levels to ensure safety regulations are followed.

Additionally, residents with concerns about pools can register complaints with the municipality, which pledges a same-day response. Mr Al Romaithi said the municipality closed at least two pools this summer for public health and hygiene offences.

The community pool at Al Reef Arabian Village was shut down last month after laboratory tests showed the chlorine concentration exceeded permitted levels and pH levels were too low.

"The pool was slightly acidic, which can be a problem for people with sensitive skin," said Mohammed Osman, an environmentalist for the municipality.

"We ordered them to close the pool until the filter system was fixed and chlorine levels improved."

Al Reef pool, which is shared by 1,500 families, was tested after several residents complained of illness and skin irritation.

"My son got sick from the pool," said an American mother, who has lived in Al Reef for seven months. "He was vomiting for five days."

Another resident said she believed shoddy cleaning and maintenance was the cause of the problems.

"This isn't the first time people have been sick," said a Briton, who has lived in the community for more than a year. "I think it's meant to be cleaned or tested every day. They don't know how to take care of it. I want something done, because we can't use the pool."

Census International, the facilities arm of Manazel who looks after the Al Reef pool, has not been responsive to complaints over many months, several residents said.

The municipality tested the water on September 14, and ordered Al Reef's management to maintain daily records of chlorine levels and to provide a first aid kit. The pool was given official clearance to open on September 29, but in fact it reopened 12 days earlier.

Results of microbiological tests and other chemical tests were within permissible thresholds, the municipality report said.

Fahad Hareb, the chief commercial officer of Manazel, the community's developer, insisted the pool had been closed on September 8 for maintenance and reopened at the completion of the work on September 17.

The municipality conducted its tests when water was not circulating in the pool and the pumps were not working, Manazel said. No one was using the pool at the time.

"The municipality did not ever close our pool," said Aydeh Mabrook, a supervisor at Manazel.

"We want our place to be healthy. We don't want a thousand people in Al Reef getting sick on our watch."

"At the end of the day, Manazel and Census is there for the community," Mr Hareb said.

The municipality also ordered the pool at the Marina Club to be closed after a leak was discovered. Mabrouk Ali, the general manager of the club, said he closed the pool on his own for maintenance after the inspection a month ago.

Meanwhile, Mr Al Romaithi said the municipality's pool inspection team would perform comprehensive checks that would include assessing pool furniture, bathrooms and shower facilities.

Offenders will have their pools closed and be given a warning. Within 10 days of the offence, a company must be hired to manage pool chemicals and samples will be taken each week. A fines structure has not yet been developed. The new inspectors should be in place by the end of the year, after the municipality approves the regulations.

jthomas@thenational.ae