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Two-thirds of outdoor pools in Montreal are closed

Montreal’s swimming pools have failed lab tests and the presence of various microorganisms has forced the city to close two-thirds of its outdoor amenities.//

After a media investigation, Mayor Gerald Tremblay requested mayors of the city's 19 boroughs to close 48 of the city's 73 outdoor pools.

"Public health is important for our administration," Tremblay said on Monday at a news conference. "We have to make sure that the safety our pools for our children and their parents is absolutely perfect."

Diarrhea, nausea, eye and skin irritations and respiratory problems causing microorganisms like E.coli, C. difficile, Legionella, Hepatitis A and Giardia were found in high concentrations by the tests. The presence of fecal matter, urine and suntan lotion was also reported.

This investigation by sensationalist Le Journal de Montreal and the TVA television network resulted in the pool closings. The media outlets appointed BioMedco, a private firm to conduct the tests. One third of the pools failed this test while another third was unsuccessful in meeting the accepted standards.

Between July 8 and Aug. 1, 3 samples were taken from each pool. Around 4,560 samples were examined.

According to Tremblay, all of the 73 outdoor pools and 80 wading pools used by small kids will be retested. Though the latter were not included in the media investigation ."We will redo the tests to ensure are pools are safe for children and their parents."

However, no reports of anyone being ill due to water quality have been reported so far, according to Montreal’s health department ."Over the course of the last weeks and months, we haven't received information about infections related to swimming in Montreal pools," said Blaise Lefebvre, spokesman for the department. "So we have nothing to say that this is a particular public health problem for Montreal's pools." Lefebvre said that proper action has been taken by closing the pool s until further tests are performed.

Chlorine is added to the water every 2-3 hours, after the city lifeguards examine the poolside samples. But excess of chlorine can cause health problems. The media tests concluded that one of the pools used for 2005summer's world aquatics championships actually had excess of chlorine.

According to Janka Corewyn, acting supervisor beaches and outdoor pools in Vancouver, the accurate combination of chlorine is enough to destroy most bacteria. "We feel that any organic matter which would be the cause for health concerns that is definitely dealt with the chlorine," she said. British Columbia regulations necessitate at least one part per million (ppm). 15 indoor and outdoor pools of Vancouver maintain chlorine levels at 2.5 ppm. "As soon as we see it going below that 2.5 parts per million, we're definitely acting on it" she said.

Public health inspectors in Toronto carry out a minimum 4 investigations annually of every pool and 2 of summer facilities. The inspection aims at preventing drowning and checking chemical levels. "Water contamination that can affect human health is a serious concern for us," said Reg Ayre, manager of Toronto Public Health. “Pool operators frequently complain that inspectors are too strict”, he said. "But we would rather do that than have a major outbreak or have to answer to an inquest when something goes wrong, E. coli is a marker for fecal contamination and if you are starting see bacterial contamination, you've then got to start asking the question what is the pool chemistry like."

Montreal's LaSalle borough is the area where some of the worst results were found. The mayor of that borough announced a sequence of steps to make sure that the problem is rectified.

The department officials on the proposal by Quebec Health Minister Philippe Couillard will add water quality to the recommendations concerning the safety of public pool.

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