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Splash pads could expose children to bacteria, a Jacksonville doctor warns

 Flossie Brunson Eastside Park splash pad in Jacksonville
Joshua Pantano
The Department of Health requires operators of public recreational water facilities, including splash pads, to meet safety guidelines.

Splash pad visits might provide some relief from sweltering heat, but they could also be exposing children to bacteria that could make them sick.

Splash pad visits might provide some relief from sweltering heat, but they could also be exposing children to bacteria that could make them sick.

Dr. Pauline Rolle, medical director of Jacksonville Pediatrics and Southeast Georgia Primary Care for Ascension Medical Group, said parents should be careful when taking their kids to splash pads.

“They're not always as sanitary as we would like them to be,” Rolle said. “I can't speak to Jacksonville in particular, but as a whole across the United States, they're typically not regulated very well and are not always required to have disinfectant.”

If your child becomes sick after visiting a splash pad, Rolle said to keep an eye on their symptoms before deciding whether to go to a hospital. Persistent vomiting and blood in stool or vomit likely require an ER visit. Watery or persistent diarrhea can be a reason to see a primary care provider.

The Florida Department of Health requires operators of public pools and other recreational water facilities including splash pads to meet certain safety guidelines, including the chlorine level, pH and that “water shall be free of coliform bacteria contamination.”

However, even when splash pads are carefully regulated and disinfected, sick children can still create issues. Rolle said copious amounts of germs can outpace even the best systems.

“If kids are coming to the park ill already with diarrhea and things of that nature, the bacteria floating around can overwhelm the germicidal system that is already present,” Rolle said. “What children may get from being at a splash pad may be something like a stomach bug where the kids experience vomiting, diarrhea — that kind of thing.”

Rolle urges parents to not take their kids to the park when they’re sick because they might spread their illnesses to other children. Additionally, she says parents should tell kids not to drink the water. Washing hands regularly, showering before going into the splash pad, and making sure kids have consistent bathroom breaks can also help to avoid spreading germs.

The city of Jacksonville, in response to an email inquiry by WJCT, said, “During the months of May to September, splash pad locations are inspected daily/weekly by our pool maintenance team to ensure the system is functioning properly.” The city did not respond specifically about how often it cleans its 13 splash pads or what it does to measure for or prevent bacterial contamination.

Beyond bacteria, Rolle said roughhousing at splash pads is another risk, which can lead to kids suffering sprains and fractures.

“A lot of injuries can be prevented by paying attention, watching your kids and admonishing them not to run and not to push,” she said.

And in most counties, there are many heat-relieving alternatives to splash pads, including public pools and libraries.

Copyright 2023 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Joshua Pantano