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Confronting warning over danger lurking in backyard pools amid pandemic

There are concerns more than 300,000 Victorian households could be at risk of serious health issues as a result of backyard pools.

With the coronavirus pandemic locking down Victoria for months, some pools have gone unserviced and become ideal breeding grounds for waterborne pathogens.

As Australia heads into warmer months, households are urged to have pools serviced to remove the hidden danger lurking beneath the surface – but despite the health risk, Melburnians still aren’t allowed to have technicians tend to the pool due to coronavirus restrictions, even though gardeners can trim hedges and mow lawns.

Coronavirus cases continue to fall in Victoria, with 10 new daily cases reported on Tuesday. Premier Daniel Andrews announced an easing of restrictions on Sunday, and reiterated to reporters on Tuesday what maintenance was allowed in the home.

Weatherboard circa 1920 house in Australia with swimming pool in rear yard behind house.
Unserviced backyard pools can pose a serious health risk to owners. Source: Getty

“Emergency repairs can take place at occupied properties. That means no interior design, no renos if the property is occupied,” he said.

“Gardening and landscaping services by sole traders are allowed, as long as it’s contactless and can be done safely alone and it can also occur on an occupied property, given the nature of that work. It is, indeed, outside.”

Lack of pool maintenance can cause ‘enormous health issues’

But Swimming Pool and Spa Association of Victoria CEO Chris Samartzis does not understand why swimming pool maintenance is not included in the eased restrictions.

“It’s not so much that you can’t yourself throw salt in there, it’s about getting the pH balance correct,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“The main issue is cryptosporidium – it can cause enormous health issues.”

According to a fact sheet released by the Victorian Government of Health and Human Services, cryptosporidium can cause profuse, watery diarrhoea with cramping and abdominal pain, fever and vomiting.

An aerial picture of pools in backyards in Australia.
There are more than 300,000 backyard pools in Victoria. Source: Getty

Young children under five are particularly susceptible and in immunocompromised people it can cause a life-threatening illness.

“More and more people are staying at home in Victoria and using their pools and it goes to show for that part of community health has been ignored,” Mr Samartzis said.

“There are more than 300,000 pools in Victoria and some of them haven’t been touched in two or three months. Water starts to turn green and not everybody has the knowledge of how to balance water, there is some science behind it.

“Pools need to be serviced on a regular basis to keep water balanced. Technicians are covid safe and work in a one man, one woman operation.”

Thousands rely on pool cleaning for income

Mr Samartzis said there were also thousands of people who were relying on the pool cleaning service as their only income.

“Servicing the backyard pool, doing repairs on pumps and filters, is a huge part of what they do. It’s affected them in a lot of ways – it’s a lot of mental and financial stress and it’s hurt the industry,” he said.

“It’s critical that every body of water is treated otherwise it’s not safe to swim in.

“Our members carry a safety work method statement, a covid-safe plan and keep their distance. They travel on their own and it’s a one person show.”

Mr Samartzis urged the government to reconsider the rules it has relaxed and allow pool technicians to visit homes as part of that.

“It’s absurd you can have a gardener come and clip your hedges – it may be important for the streetscape –but something that’s actually important for the health of the residents and community is even more critical,” he said.

Yahoo News Australia has contacted the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services for comment.

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