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Dirty Diving: What's in the water where you swim?

Posted at 8:00 PM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-02 13:56:34-04

To survive outdoors in the Las Vegas summer, you've got to get wet. 

Many of us splash our way through the season, but as Contact 13 found, all may not be well in the water. 

We examined nearly 100 inspection reports over the last year -- from gyms to apartment and condo complexes to Strip casinos -- looking at water quality and life safety. 

We found dangerous chemical levels, lack of lifeguards and safety equipment, green water, black algae, mosquitoes, and remember that famous scene from Caddyshack where a girl screams, "Doody!" and everyone scramble to get out of the water?

The culprit in the movie was a Baby Ruth candy bar. 

But swimmers at the Budget Suites on Tropicana Avenue and Wynn Road were not so lucky.

"Unfortunately this day, the health inspector so happened to show up and when that happened, when they did their walk-through, that's when they noticed the stool in the pool," said Budget Suites General Manager Jeanny Ponte.

The Health District closed the pool due to that imminent health hazard.

"We were very, obviously, surprised because we had just did our inspection and gave the okay for people to swim," said Ponte.

Most parents are familiar with poop in the pool as it's typically caused by a swim diaper malfunction.

"Unfortunately, in this situation, there were no children at the pool. They were adults."

Stool in the pool can result in a parasitic infection caused by Cryptosporidium, which spreads when people swallow something -- such as pool water -- that's come into contact with the feces of a sick person. 

Outbreaks linked to swimming pools and water playgrounds in multiple states are increasingly being reported to the Centers for Disease Control, with twice as many in 2016 as in 2014. 

That didn't happen at Budget Suites, but they still had to follow the CDC's protocol for a "fecal incident response."

"We raised our chlorine levels to a very high level. To shock the water. For at least 17 hours."

Then, they had to bring those dangerous chemical levels back down before anyone could safely swim. 

The Health District does not test for bacteria or parasites. 

But they do check the water to ensure there are enough disinfecting chemicals.

And it's not just water quality that inspectors are checking. 

They're also looking to make sure you're safe when you swim. 

Among other requirements, public pool facilities have to have life preservers, shepherd's poles to fish out someone in distress, proper signage, and self-latching gates.

Over the last year, other closures around the valley include Canyon Pointe apartments on Harmon near Jimmy Durante, where inspectors responding to a green water complaint closed the pool after finding the gate was not self-latching.

The swim beach at the Hilton Lake Las Vegas was closed for no lifeguards, no safety equipment, cloudy water and failing to provide water quality test results.

The Jovanna Villas apartments' spa on Serene and Cactus Ridge and the Lantana apartments pool on Charleston and Torrey Pines were both closed for violations including green water. 

There was also black algae growing in the plaster at Lantana, and also at Liberty Village's pool on Nellis and Cheyenne.

Pebble Beach Villas pool near Vegas and Michael Way was closed for stagnant water and mosquitoes.

As for hotels, inspectors found repeat imminent health hazard violations in the La Quinta Suites spa on Sahara near Grand Canyon, where chlorine levels were consistently too low. 

Chlorine levels were also a problem in hot tubs at the Palms hotel casino and Caesar's Palace. 

And there were unsafe gates and chemical level issues at Circus Circus.

But, again, what the Health District doesn't test for may be far more dangerous.

In the Spring of 2015, Clark County officials confirmed hundreds of swimmers used the pool at the Desert Breeze aquatic facility, never knowing employees had reported skin rashes.

It wasn't until county tests revealed staph bacteria that they shut down both the Desert Breeze and West Flamingo pools.

There are a variety of chemicals that humans bring into public pools through bodily fluids.

Remember that overnight water color change from blue to green in the 2016 Rio Olympic pools?

All that highlights the need to monitor water quality, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

And in case you're wondering about the one thing we haven't mentioned--pee in the pool--newly published research from a team of Canadian scientists reveals one 220,000-gallon, commercial-size swimming pool contained almost 20 gallons of urine. In a residential pool (20-by-40-foot, five-feet deep), that would translate to about two gallons of pee.

And any amount of urine in a swimming pool can be harmful to some people's health,

If you have questions or concerns about the pool you use, contact the Southern Nevada Health District.