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DHEC reminds South Carolinians to swim safely this summer at pools, lakes and beaches

In recognition of Healthy and Safe Swimming Week (May 23-29), the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reminds South Carolinians how important it is to practice safe swimming when enjoying a private or public pool, lake, river, ocean, hot tub or splashpad.

The week before Memorial Day, which is considered by many to be the unofficial start of summer, is recognized as Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, an initiative led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to focus on the health benefits of water-based physical activity while minimizing the risk of recreational water-associated illness and injury.

While DHEC has key roles in water safety – inspecting public pools and hot tubs across the state to ensure quality and safety standards are met and monitoring ocean water and natural swimming areas for harmful bacteria and algal blooms – it’s up to individuals to help keep themselves and their children safe during water activities.

“The number one rule of swimming safety is to never let children play near water unattended because drowning can happen quickly and quietly. Adult supervision is essential,” said Kevin Poore, program coordinator with DHEC’s Division of Injury and Substance Abuse Prevention and Director of Safe Kids South Carolina. “Another important step people can take is to prevent germs from getting into public swimming areas by not entering the water if you’re sick with diarrhea and taking kids on regular bathroom breaks and checking diapers. People can get very sick if they swallow just a mouthful of contaminated water.”

The CDC and DHEC also recommend the following tips:

Pools and hot tubs

When you first arrive at a pool, take a rinse in the shower, then dry off and apply sunscreen. The amount of dirt and oil on your skin can throw off the balance of chemicals in the water keeping you safe.

Don’t go to the bathroom or let children go to the bathroom in a pool, and try not to swallow any water. Germs in the water can make people sick if they swallow just a mouthful of contaminated water.

Read and follow all directions on product labels of chemicals for treating pool water, and wear safety equipment – such as masks, gloves, and goggles – when handling chemicals. Mishandling pool chemicals can cause serious injuries.

Don’t swim if you have diarrhea, and apply the same rule with children. Some parasites, like the diarrhea-causing Cryptosporidium, can survive in properly treated pools.

Know the risk of Legionnaires’ disease associated with hot tubs. While Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, known cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been linked to hot tubs that didn’t have proper control measures in place.

Beaches, lakes, rivers and streams

Use the CheckMyBeach webpage or DHEC’s Beach Monitoring webpage for any long- or short-term swimming advisories due to elevated bacteria levels in ocean waters. DHEC monitors ocean water quality at more than 120 locations along South Carolina’s beaches.

South Carolina lakes, rivers, streams and the coast are great places to cool off, but there is always a potential risk when swimming in natural water bodies. Natural waters are not sterile environments, and the presence of harmful bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can cause illness is always a possibility.

It’s always recommended that individuals evaluate a waterbody before entering in it. If a waterbody looks discolored, has a foul odor, noticeable algal mats, or dead fish or other animals, it’s advisable to not enter the water or allow pets or animals near that water. Algae blooms can be very fast growing and become an issue before the Department has been made aware of them. DHEC’s Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Monitoring App provides information about identified HABs in the state. If you see a possible algal bloom, please report it to DHEC at 803-898-8374 or WTR_asp_hab@dhec.sc.gov.

When visiting a beach, pay attention to local reports about rip currents or other potential risks. Ocean currents present an added threat to safe swimming. Learn about rip currents and other ocean safety tips from the American Red Cross.

The CDC reports that more children 1 to 4 years old die from drowning than any other cause of death except birth defects. While children are at highest risk, anyone can drown. Every year in the United States, 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings – an average of 11 drowning deaths per day – and 8,080 nonfatal drownings – an average of 22 nonfatal drownings per day.

According to the same CDC report, there are also some racial and ethnic disparities among drowning deaths. Drowning death rates for Black people are 1.5 times higher than the rates for White people. Disparities are highest among Black children ages 5-9 (rates 2.6 times higher) and ages 10-14 (rates 3.6 times higher).

Learn more about safe any healthy swimming at cdc.gov/healthywater.