With summertime nearly upon us and tourists, families, and kids getting ready to hit the pool and slide down the water slides, the Department of Health is going to keep inspections of public swimming pools to just checking the water chemistry. That means inspectors won't be looking to see if pool drains are missing, ladders need replacing, or cracks on the floor need caulking. And that's not a good thing.
With about 19.5 million Floridians and 100 million out-of-towners hitting up the more than 37,000 public pools and spas in the state, the Florida Public Pool Coalition — made up of the Florida Swimming Pool Association (FSPA), the Building Officials Association of Florida (BOAF), and the United Pool & Spa Association (UPSA) — is trying to get the attention of Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers to get the DOH back to full inspections of public pools.
Since 1921, DOH has been inspecting state pools, including places like Rapids Water Park and Walt Disney World Resort, twice a year. Those inspections included thoroughly looking at pools to make sure all safety requirements were met. Last year alone, there were 27,000 violations cited by DOH across the state.
This year, those inspections will be limited to checking on the water's cleanliness. And that's it.
The reason for the pullback is due to legislation that passed in 2012 that removed duplication from construction permits. Normally, when building a pool or a building of any kind, one would have to go through county and state officials to get it done. This led to too many hoops and hurdles to go through, so the legislation removed the duplication. But what ended up happening was that language was left to be interpreted that has led to bureaucratic entanglements. The FSPA and its partners tried to get the language fixed during this year's session. But the legislative session abruptly ended earlier than scheduled, killing the legislation.
Moreover, some legislators said the amendment would lead to "too much government regulation."
As a result, once a public pool or spa is constructed and placed into service, building departments will no longer provide any routine inspections, nor will the DOH. This means that the safety of public pools and spas will be left up to whoever owns and operates the pools.
"The legislature was in the works, and then the legislature broke abruptly, and we’re asking the governor to interpret the law to make it that DOH can make their inspections again," FSPA's Jennifer Hatfield tells New Times. "This is not about more regulation. This is about keeping the regulation we’ve always had to begin with."
As summer approaches, DOH will not be inspecting as it once did — something it took very seriously in the past.
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"If something wasn’t functioning, they’d shut the pool down completely," says Wendy Parker Barsell. "Now they won’t be closing the pools for anything that can be hazardous."
The FSPA has started a petition on its website and is hoping Rick Scott can weigh in on the issue sooner rather than later. Public school will be ending the year in a matter of weeks throughout South Florida, and things are going to get busy come mid-June.
Hatfield says the group is targeting late June into the Fourth of July weekend to have either Scott or someone in Tallahassee to make the call so that DOH can get back to its inspections.
"Facilities are generally in charge of inspecting their own pools and spas anyway," Hatfield says. "But the DOH can easily find something that's been missed. It's insurance. And it affects everyone."