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Letters to the Editor:

Re-printed by permission of R. Brown

June 8, 2008

Ms. Amy Thomas, Principal Community Services

Supervisor, City of Santa Monica

Dear Ms. Thomas,

I’m writing in regards to the Santa Monica Swim Center. I would like to begin by congratulating you on running such an excellent program. In general, swimming at this facility is a total pleasure — it’s a beautiful pool, the staff is excellent and helpful, and the amount of access for different types of swimmers is outstanding.

However, there is one issue that, for the past few years, has continued to confound me. Having been a swimmer for over twenty years, I have never before encountered a facility where the staff is totally uncaring about whether or not people shower before entering the pool. I have questioned lifeguards at the pool about this, and have been assured that swimmers are supposed to shower before entering the pool. And yet, in my years of swimming at the facility, I have never ONCE seen a lifeguard stop someone from entering the pool without a shower. Just this morning, I watched swimmer after swimmer after swimmer arrive at the pool, remove their outerwear, and dive into the fitness pool without rinsing down. (It’s difficult to say an exact number. But only one other male swimmer showered when the pool was opened, and there were at least 15-20 males in the water.)

If you do not believe me, I urge you to visit on a Sunday morning and see for yourself. The showers are completely empty and everyone jumps in dry. It’s shocking! Especially considering there were three lifeguards on duty who didn’t seem particularly occupied.

For those reading who are unfamiliar with pool rituals, I would like to make a few things clear. Because of my work, I often travel and have swum in facilities around the world. In the past six months alone, I have been in public pools in Japan, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, and in San Francisco and New York. At every single facility, each and every swimmer is REQUIRED to shower — NO EXCEPTIONS. If you enter the pool area dry, a lifeguard immediately stops you and directs you back to the shower. (As a side note, in many countries, a bathing cap is generally required as well. It’s not as common in America, but it goes to indicate how seriously people take hygiene in other places.) Furthermore, I have been in pools all around Los Angeles — from Glassel Park to Culver City to Downtown to Pacific Palisades. At every single place, swimmers also are stopped and reminded to rinse down if they attempt to enter the pool without showering. It is absolutely standard procedure, but for some reason, it is a procedure that is completely absent in the regimen of the Santa Monica Swim Center. I find it particularly telling that Santa Monica is the only pool I have encountered where there is not even a sign (at least I’ve never seen one) that reminds patrons to shower. These signs are everywhere at most pools.

Showering before entering a public pool is a serious issue. A cursory search on Google can provide endless research. But here is one particularly pithy summary:

“Don’t make the community pool the community bath. Pollution is introduced almost continuously into the water of swimming pools from the bathers themselves. Studies clearly show that pre-swim showering removes significant amounts of dirt and bacteria that would otherwise end up in the pool. It’s not nice to think about, but up to two-thirds of the sweat products and one third of the bacteria on our bodies are removed by showering. Showering will also remove pollutants such as urine, excrement, mucus, dead skin, dirt and products such as hairspray, body soap, lotions, oils, deodorant and ointments. Without a shower, these pollutants end up in the pool water.

“Pollutants from our bodies can transmit biological organisms such as bacteria and viruses into the pool and can quickly use up the pool disinfectant. Pollutants combine with the chlorine in the pool water to become chloramines in the water and air. Chloramines are a much poorer disinfectant than chlorine. The production of chloramines can result in an inadequately disinfected swimming pool. Swimming pools, which are not properly disinfected, have been proven to serve as vehicles for the transmission of human disease.”

I’d like to close by saying that, at most pools, it becomes standard practice for people to shower, and nobody is particularly perturbed. In fact, the culture of most pools evolves so that the patrons feel a sense of duty and obligation to shower. I strongly urge you to turn around the attitude at the Santa Monica Swim Center. It will be healthier and cleaner for everyone.

Best regards,

R. Brown

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