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City splash pads could expose children to bacteria, doctor warns

The city operates 13 splash pads, including this one at Flossie Brunson Eastside Park
Joshua Pantano
WJCT News 89.9
The city operates 13 splash pads, including this one at Flossie Brunson Eastside Park

Splash pad visits might provide some relief from sweltering heat, but they could also be exposing children to bacteria that could make them sick.

Dr. Pauline Rolle, medical director of Jacksonville Pediatrics and Southeast Georgia Primary Care for Ascension Medical Group, said parents should be careful when taking their kids to splash pads.

“They're not always as sanitary as we would like them to be,” Rolle said. “I can't speak to Jacksonville in particular, but as a whole across the United States, they're typically not regulated very well and are not always required to have disinfectant.”

If your child becomes sick after visiting a splash pad, Rolle said to keep an eye on their symptoms before deciding whether to go to a hospital. Persistent vomiting and blood in stool or vomit likely require an ER visit. Watery or persistent diarrhea can be a reason to see a primary care provider.

The Florida Department of Health requires operators of public pools and other recreational water facilities including splash pads to meet certain safety guidelines, including the chlorine level, pH and that “water shall be free of coliform bacteria contamination.”

The city of Jacksonville, in response to an email inquiry by WJCT News 89.9, said, “During the months of May to September, splash pad locations are inspected daily/weekly by our pool maintenance team to ensure the system is functioning properly.” The city did not respond specifically about how often it cleans its 13 splash pads or what it does to measure for or prevent bacterial contamination.

However, even when splash pads are carefully regulated and disinfected, sick children can still create issues. Rolle said copious amounts of germs can outpace even the best systems.

“If kids are coming to the park ill already with diarrhea and things of that nature, the bacteria floating around can overwhelm the germicidal system that is already present,” Rolle said. “What children may get from being at a splash pad may be something like a stomach bug where the kids experience vomiting, diarrhea — that kind of thing.”

Rolle urges parents to not take their kids to the park when they’re sick because they might spread their illnesses to other children. Additionally, she says parents should tell kids not to drink the water. Washing hands regularly, showering before going into the splash pad, and making sure kids have consistent bathroom breaks can also help to avoid spreading germs.

There are 13 city-operated splash pads across Jacksonville:

  • Bruce Park — 6549 Arlington Road, Jax, FL 32211 
  • Flossie Brunson Eastside Park — 1050 Franklin St., Jax, FL 32202 
  • Glen Myra Park — 1429 Winthrop St., Jax, FL 32206 
  • J. Gardner Nip Simps Park — 6602 Richardson Road, Jax, FL 32209 
  • Johnnie Walker Park — 2500 W. 20th St., Jax, FL 32209 
  • Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park — 500 Wonderwood Drive, Jax, FL 32233 
  • Leonard Abess Park — 12743 Leonard Abess Blvd., Jax, FL 32225 
  • Losco Regional Park — 10931 Hood Road S., Jax, FL 32257 
  • Marion Park — 840 Marion Circle, Jax, FL 32208 
  • Murray Hill Playground — 4802 Kingsbury St., Jax, FL 32205 
  • Panama Park — 6912 Buffalo Ave., Jax, FL 32208 
  • Russell Bill Cook Jr. Park — 3300 Jones St., Jax, FL 32206 
  • Wiley Road Playground — 2150 Lane Ave., Jax, FL 32210

Beyond bacteria, Rolle said roughhousing at splash pads is another risk for kids, including sprains, fractures, and broken bones.

“A lot of injuries can be prevented by paying attention, watching your kids and admonishing them not to run and not to push,” she said.

And there are many heat-relieving alternatives to splash pads across Jacksonville, including public pools and libraries.

Joshua Pantano is a summer intern at WJCT News. He was previously a staff writer for the Ithacan, Ithaca College’s student-run newspaper, and a newscaster and reporter for WICB and VIC Radio, Ithaca College’s student-run radio stations.