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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Lynn Remund (right) shows Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon the new system Thursday that uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria in public swimming pools.

WEST JORDAN — Salt Lake County-operated swimming pools are being equipped with ultraviolet light systems to help battle the parasite cryptosporidium and other bacteria that hang out in pools.

But health officials warn that technology never will replace hygiene when it comes to contamination illnesses.

Health officials and county Mayor Peter Corroon on Thursday showed off the first of the new UV light systems at the Gene Fullmer Recreation Center, 8015 S. 2200 West. All 24 Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation pools (some of the 18 county facilities have more than one) will have the UV systems, at a total cost of close to $1 million.

An outbreak of cryptosporidium along the Wasatch Front last year led to temporary barring of very young swimmers from public pools and heightened the rules on cleaning pools. The parasite, which lives in intestines, can be spread by poor hygiene and contact with contaminated water. The resulting gastrointestinal illness can be quite severe and last a week or two. More than 1,900 cases were lab-confirmed last year on the Wasatch Front; 30 is typical.

UV has proven highly effective against bacteria and parasites, but it's not a cure, and it's not the only tool being used to keep the water safe to swim in, says Teresa Gray, bureau manager over water quality and hazardous waste in the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

The UV lights themselves are inside canisters, and the water goes through its normal filtration and then through the reaction chamber, says Lynn Remund of CEM Aquatics, which installed the units, manufactured by a Wisconsin company.

In two hours, about 150,000 gallons can go through one of the units to be treated by the UV lights. But swimmers can be exposed to contaminants in water that has not yet been treated — and they also can recontaminate water. So chlorination is still needed, although in lower doses.

There's still "some possibility of contamination," says Jim Bosserman, Salt Lake County project manager. "It's not a cure-all, but it will help avoid or manage an outbreak."

County health officials have taken several approaches to avoiding future outbreaks. For example, they're updating pool regulations, and they've heavily emphasized education, not only of pool operators, but also of users.

County health spokeswoman Pam Davenport says the public role in keeping pools clean may be the biggest of all. Folks need to be sure that anyone who doesn't have full bowel control wears a swim diaper when in the pool. Parents need to change a baby's diaper away from the pool side. People who have had diarrhea within the last couple of weeks need to stay away entirely. And the importance of a genuine clean-off shower before swimming — and good handwashing and other hygiene — cannot be overemphasized.

Pool operators, both public and private, in other cities and counties also are considering the UV light systems or have installed other technological options such as ozone to improve the ability to keep pools clean and safe.

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