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North Ga. Environmental Health Director discusses swimming pool safety

Story and Cartoon By Raymond King - Director of Environmental Health for the N. Ga. Health District

Recently an 8-year-old girl swimming in a Doraville apartment complex pool had her arm trapped in a vacuum drain.  Her brother kept her afloat in the water, while her mother called 911. Crews worked for about three hours -- first, lowering the water level in the pool, then chipping away at the concrete pool siding.                                     

The girl was taken to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston to have the pipe removed from her arm. The girl is expected to make a full recovery but many children die needlessly each year in private and public pools because simple safety equipment and health precautions are not taken.

You may be surprised to learn that the swimming pool serving your residential development or apartment complex is not inspected by any authority for health and safety.

There are statewide health and safety regulations for most public pools, but the rules do not include subdivision or apartment pools.  In our area of north Georgia, only the Cherokee County Board of Health has adopted rules covering private subdivision and apartment pools. There may be a contract with a private company to insure properly disinfected water but that may be the limit of the company's responsibility. The recycling rate through the filter and disinfection unit may be inadequate because the pool is of a design for private homes, not public use.

Transmission of diseases is easy in swimming pools if filtration and disinfection rates are inadequate. For example, a child in ordinary diapers may swim and transmit viruses or bacteria throughout the pool.

In June of 1998, Georgia health officials were notified that a number of children had become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections and were hospitalized in Atlanta-area hospitals.  Public health investigators interviewed victims’ families and learned that all had become ill after visiting in a public swimming park.  Twenty-six culture-confirmed E. coli 0157:H7 cases were identified, and while health officials hypothesized that the outbreak was considerably larger, the outbreak size was never known due to under-reporting of illnesses.                         

Forty percent of children under five years of age were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (kidney damage) and a number were hospitalized. Low chlorine levels in the suspect pools were detected on all days of exposure, and it was never determined whether one of the pools had chlorine in it at the time when the exposures occurred.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself before letting your family swim in your neighborhood pool:

• Is the water always clear and properly disinfected?

• Are chlorine and pH levels checked at least twice a day and more often during very sunny  weather and heavy use? Sunlight and heavy bather loads can degrade chlorine levels quickly. Appearance of algae anywhere in the pool is an indicator that chlorine levels are not being maintained.

- Are NO DIVING signs posted in the shallow end of the pool? (some pools are too shallow for any diving at all.)

• Do drain covers and vacuum systems comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act? This is extremely important - see below.

• Are disinfectants such as chlorine kept in a locked room?

• Is there a phone at the pool for calling 911 in case of an emergency?

• Do you see any electrical hazards such as exposed wiring?

• Are decks and equipment surrounding the pool in good repair?

• Are there depth markers four inches high painted on the deck and on the pool wall?

• Is there life-saving equipment such as a 12' pole with a body hook and a throwing rope with attached ring buoy?

• Are the restrooms and dressing areas kept clean, disinfected, and supplied with soap and paper towels?

• Are safety warnings and pool rules clearly posted on a large sign (e.g., NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY, no children without an adult present, requirements for swim diapers, etc.)

• If there is a water slide, is a lifeguard or responsible attendant on duty at all times?  Is the design of the slide dangerous?

• Is the pool enclosed in a fence?  Is there a self-closing gate with a latch at least four feet high to prevent entrance by smaller children?

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act  takes its name from Virginia Graeme Baker, a young girl who drowned after she was trapped under water by the powerful suction from a hot tub drain. Efforts by her mother to pull Graeme from the drain proved unsuccessful. Two men who eventually freed Graeme from the spa pulled so hard that the drain cover broke from the force. Graeme died from drowning, but the real cause of her death was suction entrapment due to a faulty drain cover.

She was the daughter of Nancy and James Baker IV, the son of former Secretary of State James Baker III. A member of her community swim and diving team, Graeme was able to swim without assistance since she was 3 years old.

After her tragic death, her mother, Nancy Baker, worked tirelessly to advocate for pool and spa safety. Mrs. Baker, her family and Safe Kids Worldwide actively lobbied Congress to win support for a law to require anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices, as needed.                         The statute sponsored was signed into law by the President in December 2007.  To carry out the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, a national public education campaign was launched to raise public awareness about drowning and entrapment prevention, support industry compliance with the Act’s requirements, and improve safety at the nation’s pools and spas.

If you have a pool at home, find out if all of your drains and vacuum lines comply with this Act.  Children have been drowned and even eviscerated by pool drains and vacuum lines.  Unfortunately the Graeme Act does not require compliance from private pools and spas.

There are chemical as well as physical dangers in all pools. I recall inspecting a Boy Scout camp where gas chlorine was used to disinfect a very old swimming pool. A chlorine gas leak killed every tree, piece of grass and all other living things within 200 feet of the pool.

Fortunately no one was at the camp at the time. Chlorine is a strong oxidizer. It must be handled and stored safely in any form (solid, liquid, gas).

Gas chlorine is so dangerous that it is normally not used as a swimming pool disinfectant any longer.


Heatstroke in Pets -- local vet offers advice


By Dr. Lyn Lewis

Wayside Animal Clinic, Jasper

Over the last few weeks we had our first few days of really hot weather and, of course, I saw my first heat stroke victim this season. This was a 12-year- old dog that routinely goes hiking with the owner. Within a half hour of starting the trail, the dog collapsed and could not walk. Heat stroke can occur when our pet’s temperature reaches above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the body’s immune system begins to go haywire and their organs and blood begin to malfunction. Death can quickly occur without lowering their temperature and dealing with any other problems that can arise.

Typically I see animals with heat stroke from two common scenarios. One, the animals were left in the car, even with the windows cracked. Secondly, animals that are kept outside without adequate shade or water. Both of these situations are very common. Some other risk factors include brachycephalic breeds; these are dogs that have short noses such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers. Dogs that are very young (under 6 months) and dogs that are seniors (over 7 years) are also much more likely to develop heat stroke. Finally, dogs that are overweight or have a history of heart disease are also at high risk.

Progress columnist debates Tolstoy on happiness

A laugh for your week

The essential bad attitude By Alan Gibson

Moscow, 1884. It was obvious from the first vodka that Alexi Tolstoy had little truck with happiness in the American sense. “If you want to be happy, be,” he shrugged in that annoying way fatalists have.

Seeking to enliven the intellectual climate, I smashed my glass on the hearth in what I assumed was a symbolic rite.

Tolstoy groused peevishly that it was his best stemware and how happy would I be if he came to my house and smashed things?

“Gimme a break, Alex,” I told him. “A Russian – the original gloom culture – lecturing an American on happiness. Listen pal, Americans are happy because we know how. It’s a trait we cultivate.”

Alex pointed out that a bowl of potato soup could make a Russian happy, so who was better at it? I told him belligerently that I was 10 times happier than he could ever hope to be and how did he like that! He yawned and said it was fine with him, then, to spite me, told a joke – some vapid bêtise about a walrus from Murmansk.

I responded imprudently that his Uncle Leo’s novel War and Peace was interminable and had too many characters.

“You’ve read it?” he asked.

“Skimmed it. Got the gist.”

“Which is?”

Actually I had no idea. “Don’t invade Russia in the winter?” I looked around for more vodka only to find that Tolstoy’s wife had hidden the glassware forcing me to swig from the bottle. “And one more thing: War and Peace needs a happier ending. Tell your uncle to read Chuck Dickens’ Christmas Carol – now there’s a happy ending.”

Tolstoy shrugged again. “If you want to be happy, be.”

Back on the train, I sulked most of the way to Warsaw. What would make me genuinely happy is to win just one argument with a fatalist.

Gibson contributes each week to the Progress and hosts a weekly discussion group. He can be contacted at 770-893-2578.

Nelson Mayor comments on police coverage: Town needs police officers to do more than sit on porches

By David Leister

Nelson Mayor

In this first of what I hope will be many articles about the City of Nelson, I would like to thank the Pickens County Progress for the opportunity to communicate openly with the citizenry.

Recently I evoked a very strong response from a small group of citizens with the use of the word ‘out-sourcing.’ While it succeeded in pulling citizens into the city council meeting as I had hoped, I am not certain that they were of a mind to hear what the reasons were for discussing it. Too often we realize that the best of intentions may not have wide acceptance and are often blurred by the emotions of the moment. Such was my night on May 2, 2011.

[Resident Brian Cain of North Avenue said, “Efficiency is not as important as safety. People are willing to pay for security.” They demonstrate that when they buy security systems and firearms, he said. “You’re willing to pay for security. Don’t forget that.” Cain advised other residents in the audience, “When you want a policeman up there, it’s worth it.”] Pickens County Progress, Thursday, May 5, 2011.

The comments of Officer Cain while intended to refute my call for open discussions, were very supportive. The very week that he made those statements and other citizens agreed with him, insisting that I resign, our lone police officer finished his week ‘in-service’ by Thursday afternoon. Our city went unprotected from 4:30 Thursday afternoon until 11:30 Monday morning. Furthermore, our city has had no weekend coverage for the past three weeks. As an example, in the month of April only one traffic ticket and six tall grass citations were issued. The city court for May was canceled leaving the city attorney and criminal court clerk with significantly reduced work loads that taxpayers are still paying for.

The city council has, since August, allowed a decline in both coverage time and visibility stating that they wanted a police officer that would stop and sit on porches, as in the fictional town of Mayberry.

They, despite the phenomenal job of stopping crime in Nelson carried out by Officer Jim Van Alstine, refuse to acknowledge that Nelson has crime. In 2006 a meth lab across the street from a council member went unnoticed by the city officials.

They have continued to turn the same blind eye to the city’s decline over the past 50 years. For the past year I have asked the city council to be active in interviewing and fully staffing Nelson’s police department to insure the quality of life and security that  the citizens of Nelson expect.

Instead, they have reduced in-service time and failed to maintain their responsibilities.

Why should concerned citizens buy security systems and firearms instead of having the benefit of the one full-time and two part-time officers they are taxed for? While under my direction the police covered peak times and were very visible.

I have suggested various scheduling strategies for the police and have had them all rejected. We need all of our elected officials to have our safety and the future of Nelson as their singular purpose rather than simply labeling of the mayor a trouble-maker for speaking out.  I have been told to ‘stay in line and know my place.’ I do and it is not under anyone’s thumb, including that of the city council. Nelson needs its citizens involved now.             Please make time to guide your elected officials to save our city and to breathe life back into your community.

I would like to hear from you regarding this or any other topic for discussion. You can call 678-820-9872, e-mail me at david.leister@nelsongeorgia. com or send a letter to David Leister, Mayor, 1985 Kennesaw Avenue, Nelson, Ga. 30151.


The good, the bad and the ugly of pet foods -- Local Vet offers advice for pet owners

By Lyn Lewis, DVM

Wayside Animal Clinic

Is it just me or is there a new food product coming out every day? There are so many out there now. Truth be told that we can attribute a lot of our pet’s longevity to the evolution of pet foods. But there are still a lot of products that are not what they appear; others even can be dangerous for your pet depending on its age or health risks.

Ever since the big food scare about 3 years ago when melamine from China appeared in a few major brands, new boutique brands have been popping up. It is mind numbing all the different foods I am asked about daily. People ask me about wheat free, gluten free, bi-product free or preservative free foods all the time. The truth is there is no law that says a dog food needs to have balanced nutrition. That means that there are potentially many different foods that can be dangerous to our pets over time because they may lack vitamins or even some minerals that are important for our pet. To me that is just as scary as toxins in the food, both lead to diseases eventually.

Basically different foods have merit for different diseases definitely, but some can also be dangerous. Did you know there are some brands of food that claim to help joints and arthritis? While this is true, many of them contain glucosamine and condroitin, which are important for joints, they also contain high amounts of fat. Fat contains Omega 6 and 9 fatty acids but also a lot of calories. When this is fed to your pet over time, yes, they gain some protection and pain relief from arthritis. But, they have also gained significant amounts of weight which is infinitely worse for their joints. So, in the overall sense, these foods are the worst thing you can feed for joint health. Other diets that claim to be helpful for bladder stone or kidney disease actually are only higher in sodium making them drink more thus leading to more urine. It really did nothing more than give the appearance of better health.

On the other side of the coin, there are many great foods out there. Many companies have foods that are very balanced for young animals, adult animals and seniors. There are good foods for animals with sensitive stomachs and other common conditions. On the veterinary side,companies like Purina, Science Diet and Royal Canin make great specialty diets that can be wonderful for many diseases. In some cases they are even better than drug therapies.  Diseases such as kidney failure, liver failure, bladder stones and heart disease I usually treat with special diets first before going on with medications.

I guess the main point for this article is to not put too much stock in many of the over the counter foods. There is no governing body in our country to make sure label claims are accurate or that foods are balanced with the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals, let alone the quality of the ingredients. A final example of this is one of my favorite foods to talk to clients about, Ol’Roy. There was an interesting study a few years ago that compared Ol’Roy to Purina Puppy Chow, both products are over the counter.  They tested both foods on how much the puppies gained over their first 6 months. The conclusion of the study showed it took 2.5 times more Ol’Roy to match the weight gain of the Purina.  So to get the same results, people had to feed 2.5 times more food. That actually made Ol’Roy more expensive than Purina. I could go on and on about examples. I really am not trying to pick on any one food.

In the end, it is all about the AAFCO statement on the bag.  AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are an organization that can certify that a food is balanced in its nutritional content. A certification body to guarantee a foods nutritional content is what’s important.  When people ask for my recommendation or ask if the food they found out from a friend or on the internet is good I simply ask back if it is AAFCO certified. Usually they have to go back and check but I trust all AAFCO foods for balanced nutrition. If you stick with companies that adhere to AAFCO standards you can never go wrong. If you have any other questions about food. Especially foods used to treat various conditions in your pets it may pay to go see your veterinarian first.  They can help guide you in the right direction.