Tossing a bit of cold water onto an idea
With blisteringly hot summer weather, adding a bit of watery recreation to our community sounds like a cool idea.
But both Hillsboro and Marion, which are considering adding splash pads for kids, need to exercise caution lest they create more of a splash they want.
That’s exactly what’s happened with more closely monitored water parks in the state and could happen more easily with unattended splash pads in our community.
If managed like state-regulated swimming pools, with close on-site supervision and aggressive chemical control of water quality, splash pads can be safe.
Without consistent application of such costly provisions, they can become Petri dishes for the spread of serious, even fatal disease.
A recent study found that more than 20% of splash pads tested had below recommended levels of disinfecting chlorine, and 17% of water samples taken from splash pads contained micro-organisms that could make people sick.
Visitors, especially young children, got water in their mouths or sat on spray heads, which disease experts say should be forbidden, an average of 22 times an hour.
Of the visitors, 21% were children in diapers, and 20% of those children had their diapers changed while they still were within the splash pad area, creating more opportunities for the spread of disease.
Among the organisms found in splash pads were cryptosporidium, a micro-organism originating from animal feces that normal water purification techniques do not always remove; and coliform bacteria and giardia germs, normally from human and animal feces, which are the most frequent contaminants of well water.
One of the challenges is that splash pads recirculate water more rapidly than pools.
If contamination is released in an Olympic-size pool, it spreads out over 660,000 gallons of water, diluting its impact.
Splash pads, on the other hand, typically contain less than 2,000 gallons. Water safety can vary literally by the minute, making testing a more frequent requirement than it is for pools.
Regulated splash pads typically require all visitors to shower, as they do at pools, before entering. However, many splash pads, including those proposed for Hillsboro and Marion, are envisioned as operating without human supervision, making rules such as this and the forbidding visitors to put their backsides against water jets difficult to enforce.
We’re all for summer fun and love the thought of creating recreational opportunities for kids. But both cities should carefully consider whether they are prepared to accept the considerable risks and costs associated with operating splash pads.
— ERIC MEYER