The Horrifying Secrets Water Parks Don’t Want You to Know

As a kid, summertime often involves trips to the local water park. But as an adult, this place may not warrant the same excitement for good reason. There are the horrifying secrets and dangers lurking at your local pool. FYI: You may experience a kind of chlorine-resistant bacteria (page 10).

1. Waterslide injuries account for over 4,200 ER visits annually

North Korea lifestyle water park
A water slide | Ed Jones/Getty Images
  • Waterslide injuries include scrapes, concussions, broken limbs, and spinal damage.

No official data exists for overall water-park injuries. However, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission research found “more than 4,200 people a year taken to emergency rooms to be treated for scrapes, concussions, broken limbs, spinal injuries and other such injuries suffered on public waterslides,” reports AP News. This doesn’t even account for incidents requiring lifeguard rescues.

Next: A burn at the local pool — but not from the sun

2. Chlorine poisoning is a serious issue

Underwater shot of the swimming pool.
Swimming pool | Tirachard/Getty Images
  • More people went to the ER for injuries from pool disinfectants — 4,600 people in 2008 — than those who actually got sick from the bacteria those disinfectants were killing.

Although chlorine is needed at water parks, too much can lead to chlorine poisoning. People who accidentally consume or inhale the chemicals and fumes can get hospitalized with severe eye irritation, skin itchiness, asthma, and lung irritation, CareWell Urgent Care says. Due to its high acidity, too much chlorine can corrode a pool’s metal piping and concrete surfaces, so it’s no surprise it’d hurt humans.

Next: Confessions from fellow swimmers

3. 17% of people have admitted to peeing in a public pool

woman in swimming pool water
Swimming | JaySi/Getty Images
  • 78% of people believe other swimmers are peeing in the pool.

A disturbing 2009 survey uncovered the disgusting habits of swimmers. In addition to those who treat the pool like a restroom, about 47% of Americans admitted to other unhygienic behaviors in public pools.

Next: Legally, lifeguards aren’t babysitters.

4. Over 50% of parents believe lifeguards are responsible for their kids

A water park | MaszaS / iStock / Getty Images Plus
  • You are responsible for watching your child in the water.

Parents and caregivers can’t treat a water park like daycare. A lifeguard’s job is to enforce rules, scan, rescue and resuscitate, reports Safe Kids Worldwide. The safety staff will not be held responsible for a drowning if they have properly followed all protocol.

Next: A disgusting truth is deep underwater.

5. Employees find revolting items in pool drains

Man cleaning pool with a dog
Pool drains can collect lots of disgusting things. |
  • Water-park employees have found dead mice, condoms, and dirty swim diapers in pool drains.

If you thought Band-Aids in pools were your worst nightmare, think again. Although water parks have guidelines and schedules for cleaning drains, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll find these items in a timely manner.

Next: Have you considered entrapment?

6. There are five ways to get trapped in a pool

Plastic round drain hole on floor tile pool.
Round drain |
  • Five dangers: hair entrapment, body entrapment, limb entrapment, evisceration, and mechanical entrapment

Most assume a water park would obey regulations, but entrapment is still a serious issue. For example, between 1999 and 2009, there were 33 cases of body entrapments alone (about 35% of total entrapments). As Aquatics International advises, ask the park manager if they comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, which requires public pools to utilize anti-entrapment drain covers.

Next: Do you know who’s most likely to die at a public pool?

7. Certain demographics are far more likely to drown

Happy little kids jumping into swimming pool
Happy little kids jumping into swimming pool | FamVeld/iStock/Getty Images
  • Children ages 1 to 4 are most likely to drown in swimming pools, as opposed to baths at home or natural water.
  • African-American kids ages 5 to 14 are almost three times more likely to drown than white children.

Unfortunately, some kids are more likely than others to drown at water parks, reports Safe Kids Worldwide. Parents and caregivers who know the facts can exercise the caution they need to protect kids.

Next: The truth behind water-park health codes

8. About 8 in 10 pool inspections find severe health code violations

Tremont Community pool
| Tremont Community Pool via Facebook

Many of these violations involve failing to disinfect enough, which is how outbreaks occur. Horrifically, the CDC predicts that “half of all spas are in violation of the health code and that one in nine should be closed immediately,” explains Popular Science.

Next: Can you guess how much poop a child sheds in the water?

9. Up to 10 grams of poop can wash off a child’s butt in a pool

scene from "Adventureland"
Even staff from Adventureland would be repulsed. | Miramax
  • Fecal matter bacteria can last up to 10 days in properly treated water at water parks and swimming pools, reports the CDC.

Although we all know there must be poop particles floating around the water park, the University of Arizona researched the exact amount. Up to 10 grams of fecal matter per child is a lot when you consider how many families cool off at these parks each summer.

Next: The scariest part of pool germs

10. The most prevalent germ is chlorine-tolerant

man sitting on bed, clutching his stomach
Swallow too much water, and you could end up with diarrhea for weeks. |
  • One of the few microorganisms that can survive chlorine, crypto causes about 80% of all outbreaks of gastrointestinal problems involving pools and water parks.

Cryptosporidium has a coating that prevents chlorine from breaking it down. Swallowing even a small amount of water containing this bacteria causes diarrhea that can last for a few weeks. Popular Science describes it as “any park-goer’s worst nightmare.”

Next: Wave pools are a recipe for chaos.

11. Wave pools are way more dangerous than you think

lifeguard standing at pool
Don’t count on the lifeguard to be 100% focused on your child. |
  • Although wave pools are only a few feet deep, kids can still drown in the shallow water.

An action-packed wave pool is way more dangerous than a swimming pool. Just look at New Jersey’s Action Park, for example. According to Thrillist, the park’s wave pool, dubbed the “Grave Pool,” was the site of three deaths from 1982 to 1987. It remains open but has undergone a serious remodel.

Next: Don’t forget your flip-flops.

12. Water parks are crawling with bacteria like foot fungus

barefoot man running through water
You can leave a water park with some serious foot fungus. |

Remember when you lived in a college dorm and wearing shower shoes was an absolute must? Yeah, well, water parks are kind of like that — but even worse. Think of all the people who lived in your dorm, and now multiply that number by however many families visit water parks each year. You’re looking at a wide range of potentially infected folks.

Tip: Don’t take your eyes off your child

girl in inner tube in pool
Have a kid who likes to swim? Don’t take your eyes off them ever. |

While any caring parent knows the importance of keeping an eye on their child, some of these mega pools on steroids often require folks to be extra cautious. Speaking of Action Park’s wave pool, Thrillist said, “It was so intense that there were anywhere from 12 to 20 lifeguards on duty at all times. While most lifeguards can expect to make two to three saves in a weekend, the lifeguards at Grave Pool would make around 30.” So, just remember, don’t leave it to the lifeguards to look out for your child, as they’re responsible for the entire place.

Tip: Check with the CDC for outbreaks

woman in bed with stomach ache
To avoid getting sick, be sure to check the CDC for information on outbreaks. |

When E. coli and giardia strike, diarrhea, vomiting, and the like aren’t far behind, which is bad news for anyone who’s been swimming in a potentially infected body of water. If there is reason to worry, though, at least there’s a way you can stay informed.

Before heading out to a water park — or any swimming pool, pond, lake, or river for that matter — be sure to check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staying up to date on outbreaks in your area is easy, and avoiding the water park during these times could save you a house full of sick kids.

Tip: Rinse after swimming

back of woman in shower
Showering after a water park visit is essential. | Omelchenko

Although it’s pretty unlikely you will get chlorine poisoning, it’s still important to thoroughly wash off after leaving the water park. Also, make sure you’re going to a reputable place that knows what it’s doing. Ever see those budget-looking water parks on the side of the road that look far from safe or sanitary? Yeah, you’ll want to steer clear of those. As long as you’re visiting a well-known place, you’re probably good to go on the chlorine issue.

Tip: Steer clear of the drains

person swimming
When in doubt, stick to the surface of the water. |

There’s not much else you can do for this one besides staying far, far away from those nasty little suckers. If you absolutely have your heart set on dipping into a water park pool, just make sure there’s not anything too obscene down there glaring you in the face. And if you do notice something, tell an employee. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll do anything about it, but you never know. If that still doesn’t do the trick, you can always take to the internet and write a scathing review.

Tip: Rinse before entering

swimming pool
You really should rinse before entering any public pool. |

No, you can’t control whether other people will shower beforehand, but you can hope your good deed just might start a chain reaction of good behavior. In fact, it’s actually suggested at most public pool areas that visitors shower prior to entering. That way, all that nasty bacteria, sweat, body fluids, and anything else can stay behind, allowing you to dive in with a decreased chance you’ll bring it all with you.

Tip: Change your baby’s diaper often

baby pulling toilet paper
Potty-trained kids are just the best. |

Short of simply not going in the pool, the best way you can help ease this problem is by making sure your own kid has a clean, fresh diaper on at all times. And if your little one isn’t totally potty-trained yet, please do everyone a favor and make him or her wear a swim diaper just in case. Even if they throw a fit, you’ll be much happier you made them wear one — albeit against their will — when you discover they’re really not ready to go sans diaper after all.

Tip: Keep water shoes on hand

people wearing sandals
Don’t forget your water shoes if you’re headed to the water park. | Teva

Basically, water parks are a breeding ground for all things bacteria, including skin infections, athlete’s foot, and beyond. Still skeptical? Just take a look at some of the reviews on TripAdvisor, and you’ll probably have a change of heart. For your best chance at escaping without a raging case of athlete’s foot, or something of the like, be sure to bring a pair of water shoes with you.