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Empire editorial: Time to clear the water, and the air

Posted: February 14, 2011 - 7:48am

One of the first lessons learned at any public pool is this: When the lifeguard blows his or her whistle, it’s time to stop what you’re doing, pay attention and follow instructions.

It is unfortunate some lifeguards at Augustus Brown Pool had to become whistle-blowers of another sort after their concerns about health and safety issues were not addressed and were then allowed to fester for about a year.

A year is a long time for a public pool to pass on mandatory water tests for deadly coliform bacteria.

After bringing health and other concerns to their management, and logging them — without result, lifeguards say in their log book — head lifeguards finally wrote a long letter of complaint to the Aquatic Facilities Advisory Board. The lifeguards also alleged after speaking out about health and safety issues during a staff meeting they were told to receive training about how to be respectful City and Borough of Juneau employees.

The issue of who did what, when and how and who might have been rude seems far less important than solving the basic problems. What can be done in the future to keep the water clear in the pool and the air clear between pool staff and management? A new pool manager will step into this hornet’s nest soon, and we wish him all the best.

It’s unfortunate concerns about water testing, dead defibrillator batteries and allegedly poor staffing schedules were not addressed sooner, and were apparently unknown and not even on the radar for top managers.

It’s especially unfortunate the City’s first public reaction to the Empire’s front-page story Friday about these issues was to issue a press release stating, in part, that there were no Department of Environmental Conservation citations against the pool.

Unfortunately, the pool had been cited for allowing too many bathers in at one time, creating a condition where the chlorine that keeps creepy-crawlies like coliform at bay is dissipated and can no longer do its job. The health inspector interviewed by the Empire last week initially said there were no citations issued, but called back Friday to say he’d found a citation in the records.

One would think the pool would have its own record of that citation. Better record-keeping should be among the improvements on the horizon.

And finally, on the issue of respect; only the people at the meeting can say for sure whether lifeguards were respectful to their bosses. One thing is clearer than the pool water on given days — it is not at all respectful for the City and Borough of Juneau to run a pool without proper monthly water safety testing and invite its residents to use it, while requiring its employees there to be exposed to potential dangers. The public deserves a pledge from the city that testing will be done and the results put on the City and Borough of Juneau’s website and posted at the pool for all users to see.

That might go a long way toward clearing the water and the air.

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