The U.S. digs
status and, according to the gloomy views of some of the nation's more
pessimistic health experts meeting in Detroit last week, it may be digging a
few graves to achieve it. What specifically worried the health experts at the
meeting of the U.S. Public Health Association was the vast proliferation of
private backyard swimming pools across the nation.
to the estates of the rich, pools now dent the nation's lawns from coast to
coast, with California (113,350 pools) having the most. Two years after the end
of World War II, there were only 11,000 pools in the entire country and only
2,500 that could be classed as private. Thirteen years later the number had
swelled to 184,000. By the beginning of 1961 there were 310,000 pools in the
country, 212,000 of which were located in private backyards. More than 60,000
have been built in the 11 months since then, and by 1970, says Walter Lyon,
director of sanitary engineering in the Pennsylvania Health Department, there
will be a million pools in the country. In addition to the pools that are dug
into the ground on private estates, at country clubs, hotels, motels, community
centers and village greens, there will be another half million perching
precariously on top of it—so-called portable pools made of plastic, plywood or
probably as many portable pools as there are permanent ones," says Lyon.
"And quite frankly, I don't know if there is any way to control the health
and safety problems created by either one." Until now local ordinances and
statutes governing the construction, supervision and maintenance of public
pools have failed to keep up with the rapid growth of the private-pool fad, and
most localities have no laws at all to cover the private variety.
One of the main
concerns of a special committee at the U.S. Public Health Association meetings
was the preparation of some basic rules for private pools to match those
already in effect for public bathing places. So far most of the regulations
that exist to govern the use of swimming pools are directed solely at the
danger of contamination and disease, but disease is only a part of the problem.
"People do die from swimming in pools," says Walter Lyon, "but not
always from contaminated water. They drown, too. Statistics from Pennsylvania,
Illinois and Kansas show that approximately 5% of all drownings occur in pools.
Since about 6,500 Americans drown each year, we can assume that 325 of them
drown in swimming pools."
During the same
period, Lyon said, approximately the same number die of dysentery contracted in
improperly sanitized pools. "Yet," he said, "the health effort
devoted to the prevention of infection and contamination is far greater than
that devoted to drowning."
Public pools are
usually protected by lifeguards (though not always in sufficient number), but
in a private pool, it's Mom who must accept this responsibility. "She must
be the cook, chauffeur and lifeguard. Can we make sure she knows how to save a
drowning person and once saved how to resuscitate him?
realize quite fully the responsibility for human life they assume when they dig
that backyard hole. Liability insurance isn't enough. What can it do for a
child after he's dead or injured? They say fences are an answer, but these do
little more than keep toddlers from falling in. For an older child, a fence is
often a challenge.
don't know where the answers will come from; we're nowhere near a solution in
the residential pool area. All we can do is keep an eye on them and suggest
measures to be taken when they start to look like public pools."
One city that
thinks it knows some of the answers is Chicago, which appears to have gone
overboard in taking precautions. Such stringent ordinances were passed in 1957
that only a handful of pools have been built since. According to Alexander
Zimmerman, the sanitary engineer in charge of Chicago's pools, most people are
completely ignorant of the dangers inherent in a large and unguarded hole in
the ground—whether it is filled with water or not.