PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The annual number of public pools and spas shuttered by failed health inspections at gyms, hotels, apartment buildings and bath houses throughout Multnomah County has doubled since the pandemic, Multnomah County Health Department records obtained by KOIN 6 News show.

Out of the 471 public pools and spas in Multnomah County, a total of 103 public pools and spas were temporarily ordered to close by Multnomah County health inspectors in the last year, dating back to May 11, 2022. Prior to the pandemic in 2018, the annual number of pool and spa closures was 45. These closures are enforced based on criteria outlined by the Oregon Health Authority designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of people using public pools. Causes for failed tests include low or high pH, chlorine or bromine levels, broken or missing equipment, unposted pool safety signs and inadequate outdoor fencing.

Multnomah County Pools and Spa Closures by timeframe:
  • May 11, 2022 – May 11, 2023: 103 closures
  • 2022: 83 closures 
  • 2021: 14 closures 
  • 2020: 4 closures
  • 2019: 24 closures
  • 2018: 45 closures

County health department records show that businesses often failed water-quality inspections at locations where employees neglected to test and document pool and spa chemical levels each day, per OHA requirements. This was the case at three 24 Hour Fitness locations around Multnomah County, including the gym at Mall 205 and the company’s Super-Sport Gym in Gresham, each of which failed four separate tests in the last year.

County Health Department spokesperson Sarah Dean told KOIN 6 that county Restaurant Inspection Supervisor Jeffrey Martin has noticed a correlation between the increase of failed pool and spa inspections and a lack of employees testing the pool water.

“He and his team have seen an increase in closures over the last couple of years, which can be attributed to a lack of employees checking the levels of chemicals,” Dean said.

The labor shortage sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic may also be affecting pool and spa testing procedures, inspection records show. According to an inspection report filed on April 18, at least one local 24 Hour Fitness has struggled to maintain daily water-quality records due to staffing shortages.

“The records pertaining to pool operation, testing and maintenance are not being kept, have incomplete information or are not available for inspection,” the April 18 report for the 24 Hour Fitness at 4546 McLoughlin Blvd. reads. “Records have not been kept recently due to low staffing and new crew.”

KOIN 6 News reached out to 24 Hour Fitness about the reported hiring shortage and its struggles to follow proper OHA guidelines at specific locations. However, the company only addressed the latter.

“24 Hour Fitness is committed to providing the safest possible environment for our members to work towards their fitness goals,” a public relations firm representing 24 Hour Fitness said. “This includes our aquatic resources, which are maintained daily according to internal standards, public health regulation, and industry best practices. We are grateful to work in cooperation with governing bodies like the Multnomah County Health Department in our clubs nationwide.”

Pool file photo. (Getty Images)

Oregon State University chemistry professor May Nyman told KOIN 6 that public pools and spas are required to follow OHA chemical guidelines to avoid causing irritation to human skin and eyes and to remove unwanted ick. When used at the appropriate levels, chemicals like chlorine and bromine are used to safely destroy algae, bacteria, viruses and other organic matter without causing irritations in the average person. This includes bacteria and viruses carried in human skin, hair, sweat, urine and feces.

The pH scale. (USGS)

A pool’s chemical contents can change daily, Nyman said, making daily water quality tests an important requirement for maintaining clean, safe public pools.

“Absolutely the levels change on a daily basis,” Myman said. “The sun increases the reactivity of chlorine and bromine, and also destroys the chlorine and bromine, so your chemicals will work differently on a sunny day versus a cloudy day, day versus night. Temperature also affects reactions. Anything that gets into your pool will affect the pH. And this is affected by [the number of] swimmers, debris blowing into the pool, perfume, soaps and sunscreen levels on the humans in the pool, in addition to sun index and air temperature.”

Another company to fail multiple health inspections is Knot Springs, a high-end social club that, among other things, offers customers access to soaking pools and an icy recovery “cold plunge” pool for as much as $500 a month. Each of these pools failed inspections in the fall of 2022 for improper pH, chlorine, or alkalinity levels.

Although the pools were technically closed at varying times during two separate county health inspections held a week apart, Knot Springs spokesperson Alli Lurie told KOIN 6 News that the company consistently conducts and records pool chemistry and flow checks every two hours, and that the improper levels were immediately corrected by employees.

“We take health and safety very seriously and have put extensive time, effort, extra systems, and training into maintaining a safe environment for all of our guests, members and staff,” Lurie said. “Because of these efforts, any incidents that did come up in inspection were able to be addressed and corrected immediately.”

Despite the high number of health code violations, all of the 103 pool and spa violations have since been resolved, Dean said. In most cases, pools and spas can be reopened as soon as the water chemistry is corrected, which can be a quick fix.

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Editor’s note: If you’re reading in the news app, click here for the full list of Multnomah County pool and spa closures due to failed inspections between May 11, 2022, and May 11, 2023. (Mandatory closures reflect incidents where the county had to step in to ensure a pool or spa was closed.)

“Most of the violations that cause a pool to be closed can be corrected quickly,” Dean said. “For example, water chemistry for the pH may be too high and needs to be brought down. So, most pools and spas that are closed can quickly reopen after getting their chemistry corrected.”

Citizens concerned with the state of a public pool can report issues directly to the Multnomah County Department of Environmental Health. Past facility inspection records can also be found through the county’s website.