How safe is the water at splash parks?

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How safe is the water at Philadelphia splash parks? Ali Gorman reports during Action News at 11 p.m. on September 6, 2017. (WPVI)

With school starting, the days of running through splash parks are now over, but the results of an Action News investigation may have some parents thinking twice next summer.

Now, we don't want to ruin this activity, but we wanted to make sure the water is safe.

What we found at some splash parks may not be what you want your kids playing in. In fact, some water might have the potential to make someone sick.

We recruited Jayme Schaeffer, Senior Field Scientist with Suburban Testing Labs, to find out what was exactly in the water.

On August 4th, we took samples from six different splash parks and one rock pool.

We tested chlorine and PH levels, and also looked for signs of bacteria.

Most checked out fine, including Sister Cities Splash Pad, Seger Park, Weccacoe Park and Roberto Clemente Playground.

But the results from three sites are concerning.

The interactive fountains at Dilworth Park came up with an almost undetectable level of chlorine and a high level of total coliform - that's a group of bacteria that can be associated with unsanitary conditions.

"It could be E. coli, it could be fecal coliform, or it could be something that's not considered dangerous," Schaeffer said.

Richard Stump, President of Suburban Testing Labs, says the state limit of total coliform for a public bathing place in Pennsylvania is up to two colony-forming bacteria per 100-milliliter.

Results from Dilworth Park tested 165, from Herron Sprayground tested 43, and the Sister Cities Rock pool tested 66.

Stump says it's possible we just caught these sites on a bad day. But with those levels, if the water is accidentally swallowed, it may make you sick.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health oversees public pools, but not splash parks.

Sister Cities and Dilworth Park are managed by the Center City District.
In a statement, they told Action News, CCD staff tests the water "twice a day in each park to ensure there are no health or safety problems." And they say an independent agency also tests once a week.

Philadelphia Parks and Recreation tell Action News the parks they oversee don't require additional testing because they say they're connected to the Philadelphia Water Department.

In a statement, the water department says in part, "the water at splash parks may or may not be supplied by PWD.... and in all cases is treated again and monitored separately."

It also says, "While the water coming from a spray park should not be used for drinking water consumption, the levels shown should be acceptable for recreational activity."

We have not heard of any illnesses reported.

Statement from Center City District:

"Water Safety Management

The Center City District follows industry-recommended, best practices for proactive water-safety management of the fountains in John F. Collins Park, 1707 Chestnut Street; Sister Cities Park, 18th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway; and Dilworth Park at City Hall.

Using an authorized testing kit recommended by water treatment experts Klenzoid, Inc. of Conshohocken, CCD staff tests the water in all fountains and water features twice a day in each park to ensure there are no health or safety problems. In addition, Klenzoid, Inc. visits each park once a week and independently takes samples of the water and sends them to a certified laboratory. The operating systems for each fountain mechanically control the level of chlorination and can be easily and immediately modified if any deficiencies are found in water quality.

Please note that since the fountain water is chlorinated it may not be safe for pets.

The last tests of water by our outside agency at Sister Cities Park and Dilworth Park were Thursday, August 24. The next tests will be on Thursday, August 31. Results of the tests are phoned in to us for immediate action, and we receive the official written report approximately a week later."

Statement from Philadelphia Water Department:

"The Philadelphia Water Department provides safe drinking water throughout the City of Philadelphia. However, the water that is used at these spray parks may or may not be supplied by PWD and in all cases is treated again and monitored separately. While the water coming from a spray park should not be used for drinking water consumption, the levels shown should be acceptable for recreational activity. As long as this water is being used for recreational activities, the test results shown to PWD are not, in and of themselves, unexpected or of concern beyond being useful to those who maintain the parks."
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