What's in the water? Uncovering public pool problems

I-TEAM dives into thousands of inspection reports for Northeast Florida

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – As summer heats up and more and more families head to the pool, the I-TEAM is digging into thousands of health department inspections of public pools and finding dozens that have been shut down or ruled “unsatisfactory” by health inspectors.

Problematic pools are a concern to Josh Caliguire, an Ocala native whom the News4Jax met while he vacationed with his family in St. Augustine. He said he takes pool maintenance seriously when he travels with his kids.

“I look for algae on the tiles, I look for anything floating to show they haven’t netted it, especially brushing it,” Caliguire said. “If there are slimy sides we definitely don’t get in.”

Caliguire is an informed consumer, as his parents operate a pool company. He knows what to look for.

“There were a couple hotels we’ve stayed at that just didn’t keep their pools up and we checked out, actually, because of it,” he said.

Florida law requires that most public pools – whether they are owned by a city or school, an apartment or condominium complex, a neighborhood, or a hotel or motel be inspected twice a year. Potential violations could be due to the way the pool is constructed or maintained, or due to missing equipment. Depending on the severity of the violation, a pool may be closed until the problem is remedied, or it may remain open while the operator fixes the issue before a follow-up inspection.

FIND YOUR POOL: Search pool inspection database
I-TEAM REPORT: Unsafe public pools

The News4Jax found one pool with the most violations was at the Travelodge Inn and Suites near the Jacksonville airport. It was closed after an inspection in May revealed 11 violations, including a missing life hook and life ring, and multiple chemical issues, from the chlorine to the pH levels. The I-TEAM uncovered that the pool had been closed down by inspectors during three other recent inspections as well. The day we went to the hotel, we did spot a professional pool company on-site.

Many pools in the region that were shut down or given unsatisfactory reports were found at apartment or condominium complexes, or in neighborhoods. But the I-TEAM did find several inspections that stood out:

  • The family pool at Epping Forest Yacht and Country Club was cited for six violations in March, and was ruled unsatisfactory. Violations included a missing life hook, as well as water clarity and algae issues. The previous inspection in January was satisfactory.
  • A pool at Marsh Landing Country Club was shut down by inspectors on June 3 for five violations including a missing life hook and life ring and chlorine issues. The pool had a clean inspection two days later.
  • At TIAA Bank Field, one of the pools that has drawn national attention to the stadium was recently found to be unsatisfactory. Four violations were found at the North West Swim Spa on April 26. The previous two inspections of the pool were satisfactory, with no violations.

County-by-county: Problematic pools

As the I-TEAM examined the inspection reports with the most violations, one trend emerged involving hotels and resorts in St. Johns County which did not fully pass inspection.

When we met the Caliguire family, they were staying at the Ponce Hotel in St. Augustine, along Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The family’s toddlers, Braylon and Leland, were splashing in the pool, having fun.

“This is actually our second time at this hotel and their pool is very nice,” their father, Josh, told us.

But the I-TEAM found that the pool there was briefly closed in April by health inspectors. They had found six violations, including missing maintenance logs, a missing sign and issues with chlorine levels. The general manager told us the issues were fixed the same day and the pool reopened. We saw the new sign in place, the maintenance logs, and a chlorine testing kit. The general manager also told the I-TEAM that the hotel works with a commercial pool operator who services the pool daily.

Caliguire said those fixes were appreciated and noted.

“When we go to book online, that is one of the first things we check for, a heated, nice, well-maintained pool,” he said.

The I-TEAM found a total of 17 pools and spas at hotels, motels and resorts across St. Johns County that had been closed or ruled unsatisfactory since February. Most were in the vacation destinations of St. Augustine and Anastasia Island.

Most common pool inspection violations

At the Colony Reef Club along A1A on Anastasia Island, a wading pool was closed in February with six violations, including chlorine and pH levels that did not meet standards. The previous two inspections of that pool had been clear.

Not far from the Colony Reef Club, a pool at the Bryn Mawr Ocean Resort was ruled unsatisfactory in February, with seven violations. The pool was not closed, however, because the violations did not include any problems with chemicals.

Near the outlet malls, the Fairfield Inn and Suites on Prime Outlets Boulevard was visited by health inspectors four times in one week. The pool was closed on Jan. 31 for eight violations, including problems with chemicals from chlorine and pH levels. The inspector also noted safety deficiencies. Inspections that followed that week found fewer and fewer violations until the pool was reopened five days later.

At the Best Western Plus on State Road 16 in St. Augustine, the spa was closed on Feb. 7 after an inspection found seven violations, including multiple issues with chemicals and a disinfection feeder that was not working properly.

Other St. Johns County pools that were closed recently for chemical issues include spas at the following:

  • Historical Best Western Inn downtown
  • St. Augustine Ocean & Racquet Club on A1A
  • Hampton Inn on Ponce de Leon Boulevard
  • Holiday Inn on Ponce de Leon Boulevard
  • Fairfield Inn at Ponte Vedra Beach

The I-TEAM also found that the Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Beach Club in Ponte Vedra Beach was given an unsatisfactory inspection in March for four violations, including missing a life ring with a rope to help prevent drownings.

Pool professionals tell the I-TEAM that a number of factors can affect a pool’s chlorine levels including the number of people in the pool, hot temperatures, recent rainfall, water temperature and human error. They also suggest getting your own water testing strips so you can check a pool’s chlorine level for yourself.

Also, before booking a vacation, you can call the hotel or resort to find out whether they have a certified pool operator on staff or use a professional pool company to service the pool regularly.

The results of swimming pool inspections are available for anyone to search on the Florida Department of Health website. You can search by county and for a specific pool. The results go back for approximately one year and include whether a pool was found satisfactory, unsatisfactory or was closed down. The search engine also provides codes for any violations that were found, with a link to a key to those violations.

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