The Standard for Coliform Bacteria in Swimming Pools

Written by angela ryczkowski
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The Standard for Coliform Bacteria in Swimming Pools
Bacteria counts in a swimming pool must fall below a certain standard for the pool water to be considered sanitary. (swimming pool image by apeschi from

Analysing the bacteria level in swimming pool water determines the sanitary quality of the water and whether or not the pool is suitable for swimming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses definitions and standards for swimming pool water and disinfectant from "Suggested Ordinance and Regulations Covering Public Swimming Pools" produced by the American Public Health Association Joint Committee on Swimming Pools and Bathing Places. Some states or municipalities may have more stringent standards.

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Coliform Group

Testing a pool for organisms of the coliform group indicates whether or not intestinal bacteria is present. The EPA requires that pool water disinfectants limit the probable number of coliform backteria to less than 2.2 organisms per 100 millilitres. If a membrane filter test is used, there should be no more than 1 entercoccal organism per 50 millilitres. No more than 15 per cent of samples taken can fail to meet this bacterial standard.

Standard Plate Count

The standard plate count, sometimes known as the agar plate count or total viable bacteria count, often supplements a coliform test. It is most useful and appropriate for indoor pools that are not subject to the same amount of foreign objects an outdoor pool often is. The APHA Joint Committee states that no more than 15 per cent of the samples taken over a period of time should contain more than 200 bacteria per millimetre.

Field Test Standards

The EPA and Michigan State University's publication, "Bacteriological Analysis of Pool Water" both cover ideal sample collection methods. The water samples used for bacteriological analysis should be taken on opposite sides of the pool in the shallow area as far as possible from the inlets. Samples should be taken slightly below the surface of the water. Also, samples should preferably be taken when the number of pool users during the hour preceding sampling was at least 50 per cent of the pool's maximum bather load and the number of pool users during the time of sampling is at least equal to 25 per cent of the maximum bather load.

Additional Considerations During Sampling

Although an interpretation of pool water's bacteriological data is necessary to determine whether or not a pool is suitable for use, it is not the only information about the water that should be held to a standard or examined. The bacterial test results should be interpreted with other conditions of the pool water at the time of sampling like water clarity, amount of disinfectant, pH and bather load. This will help point to any changes in the pool operating procedure that may be affecting bacteria levels or public health.

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