While most were jumping into the pool to cool down this summer, our investigative team spent all summer diving into pool inspection records. Keeping a pool clean is a delicate balance. For example, too much chlorine can cause burns, too little and you could get sick. The Health Department is supposed to make sure public pools stay clean. Inspectors do, just not as often as the state says they should.
When it comes to public pools, you never know if you're jumping into a big bowl of bacteria. Earlier this summer, the pool at the Deluxe Inn and Suites on Lamar Avenue failed a health department inspection, scoring just 68 out of 100 for several violations including no chlorine, low P-H, and green water. The pool scored better in two subsequent inspections which found the water safe. The Memphis and Shelby County Health Department is supposed to keep an eye on more than 800 indoor and outdoor public pools in the Mid-South with regular inspections, once every month they're in use, according to Tennessee state law, to make sure the water is sanitary and facility is safe. We spent days going though the department's pool inspection files. Our investigation found hundreds of pools in Memphis and Shelby County that don't get regular inspections, some inspected only once in the last three years. Phyllis Moss-McNeill, Health Department Supervisor said, "(Why aren't these pools being inspected every 30 days like they're supposed to be?). We make every attempt to do that." But the Health Department seems to come up short, a lot. For example, the pool at T.O. Fuller State Park was not inspected in July of this year even though the pool failed an inspection last July. And state records show -- in the last three years -- the Peabody Hotel's indoor pool got nine inspections while the Downtown Marriott's pool got 10. Both should have had 36. We found page after page of similar examples. "Certainly we have fallen short and that's something we're going to look at." The problem is the inspectors are swamped with an incredibly full plate. In addition to all the pools in Memphis and Shelby County, these guys deal with the hotels, coin-operated laundries, body piercing shops, barber shops, tattoo parlors, and funeral homes. Thousands of locations, just three inspectors. Health department officials say it would take at least 12 inspectors to give every public pool a monthly safety check. "Obviously you can see that there's going to be some changes in the services provided when we simply don't have adequate staffing and resources." Not enough people to enforce the laws put in place by the state to keep swimmers from getting sick. Though Health Department officials say they have no proof of illness being traced back to pools due to lack on inspection. Still, "There's always risk. Our job is not to remove all risk. It's to minimize the amount of risk that's there."