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The Newest Raleigh Dirty Word: E. coli

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RALEIGH — An E. coli outbreak at an Atlanta water park has parents everywhere taking a hard look at baby pools.

Inspectors identified fecal matter in the water as the cause for the contamination, and at least nine children are reported sick. The park is now requiring all children in the kiddie pool to wear sealed pants and diapers.

Thursday, parents around the kiddie pool at Raleigh's Optimist Park were talking about E. coli.

The good news is that the Georgia case was extremely rare. In fact, state environmental officials know of no E. coli cases linked to any North Carolina public pools.

The bad news is that inspectors close down pools on a regular basis for insufficient chlorine, which is the principle agent in killing the bacteria.

Although no pool related cases have been reported in the state, an E. coli outbreak at any pool means parents will begin to worry.

"Immediately you thought that every pool must have the same risk, without a doubt," mother Regina McCrorie said. "Why the chlorine didn't kill the bacteria? Obviously, its such a strong bacteria the chlorine wouldn't kill it."

State and county environmental health inspectors check all public pools for PH and chlorine levels. So far this season, officials have shut down about 20 Wake County pools for insufficient chlorine.

Wednesday, inspectors ordered the Heritage Pointe Swim Club to close for that reason. Once adequate chlorination was restored, the pool reopened.

"We take it very seriously because the issue of E. coli can be very dangerous for young children," said Johanna Reese, who is with the N.C. Public Health Department. "And young children are who you have in a pool the most."

State law requires that every public pool be checked regularly by a certified pool operator. With an increased sensitivity because of the Georgia incident, most parents hope that more than the lifeguards will be looking out for their children.

"That's a bigger place. So, I feel it's harder for them to pinpoint something," mother Carol Wallace said. "But, such a small pool like this. I don't think they would have a problem like that."

When a pool is closed down for insufficient disinfectant, that does not necessarily mean that harmful bacteria was located. The pool just does not meet standards. However, there are more than 680 public pools in Wake County from apartments to hotels to subdivisions, and only four inspectors to check them.

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Cullen Browder, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
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