Thousands of Angelenos who will head to public swimming pools this summer should be wary of warnings in the water before they take a dip.
The NBC4 I-Team obtained public records by the LA County Department of Public Health showing inspections, complaints, and closures of public pools since March 2014. The agency oversees health clubs, hotels, resorts, and parks.
One example sits inside a 24 Hour Fitness gym in Hawthorne.
Local news from across Southern California
The pool at the gym looks clean and inviting, but walking to the Hawthorne club's pool is what turns gym member Jeff Traill's stomach.
"I thought it was pretty gross," Traill said of the floors around the pool. He described them as filthy and said he "wouldn't go barefoot in there whatsoever."
"They always had a bucket of dirty water sitting there right by the pool entrance," Traill said.
Traill wrote a harsh review on Yelp warning others, and trying to get management’s attention after he says he complained several times.
"That’s one of the reasons I put it on Yelp," Traill said. "To try to shame them."
The pool and spa at the 24 Hour Fitness in Hawthorne had at least three violations, public records show. One complaint filed about its pool in May 2014 stated: "After my trip to spa and gym, broke out in welts and bumps all over my body. It was like my skin was on fire."
Traill's gym is home to just one of the more than 3,000 public pools inspected by the LA County Department of Public Health.
"Our pools get inspected at least once per year, but the target is three times," said Maurice Pantoja, Environmental Health Services manager at the LA County Department of Public Health.
"The pools we inspect are generally well kept, but the most common violations we might find would be lower chlorine levels, cloudy water and improper signage," Pantoja said.
Records showed both 24 Hour Fitness and another popular chain LA Fitness had several pool and spa violations.
"Those facilities have a higher number of patrons using the pools, so there is a greater likelihood of people making complaints regarding those pools," Pantoja said.
More than 30 public pools across the county have been closed in the last year, Pantoja said.
"If there is an imminent public health danger, we would close the pool, and the pool would remain closed until that hazard is corrected. For less serious violations the owner would be given a deadline to comply," Pantoja said. "If they fail to comply we can have a hearing or refer them to a city district attorney, and if that still doesn't work we can refer them to court for fines or jail time."
Experts say the risks for infection or illness are higher if you have a low immune system.
"We do have some very serious diseases to certain people that are transmissible through mainly swimming pools and to a lesser extent spas. And that's why the health department inspections are very, very important," said Dr. Mel Kramer, an environmental and disease epidemiologist and former director of environmental health in the city of Baltimore. "We tell people, don't swallow water, to the best of your ability, don't."
Kramer said a multi-point inspection is only a snapshot of the conditions at the time the water is tested. But other days might be different.
"The day before it could be a real health hazard, the day after it could be a lot different," Kramer said.
While 24 Hour fitness declined to answer NBC4's specific questions about complaints, they issued a statement saying in part: "The safety of members is of the utmost importance. We work to ensure that our Hawthorne location and all of our club locations are in compliance with local health and safety regulations."
The I-Team has tried several times without success to reach LA Fitness for comment.
"Just because it’s a fancy club or an expensive hotel doesn't mean it's 100 percent safe," Kramer said.
Kramer said everyone shares the responsibility for keeping pools clean, but swimmers should keep in mind the territory they're entering.
"When you jump into that pool, remember it is probably one of the few places you will ever go where you will put your face where other people put their bottom," Kramer said.
Look up your gym or hotel's inspection reports and find closures on the LA County Department of Public Health website.
To contact the department via phone, call 888-700-9995.
Health officials offer these tips for illness and infection prevention:
- Never swallow pool water.
- Rinse off before entering the pool.
- Make sure the water is clear.
- Do a simple smell test: Put some water in your hands, make sure it smells like chlorine, even at a place that visually appears clean.