Effective Disinfection Procedures for Water Parks
Water parks are experts in water treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for attractions of all kinds to disinfect everything else as well—namely all the surfaces and touch points that can harbor germs. Proper disinfection can keep staff, guests, and the general public healthier. It requires planning, the right products, and changes to standard operating procedures in order to succeed.
Why ‘Cleaning’ Alone Is Never Enough
Clean, shiny facilities attract guests and encourage repeat visits. Unfortunately, cleaning alone does not kill germs. Elbow grease and mild cleansers only scrub away visible dirt, grime, and scum.
“You’re not going to kill black algae—or any other kind of visible contamination—by putting a disinfectant on it if you don’t first get rid of that plant and its layer of protective coating,” says Dr. Alison Osinski, president of Aquatic Consulting Services.
“Cleaning is about getting rid of the things you can see; disinfection is the act of killing the germs,” says Franceen Gonzales, executive vice president of business development for WhiteWater and a water park operator for 30 years. “It does kill the vast majority of these germs, so they then won’t proliferate and infect others.”
Everything in a water park needs to be disinfected: pool and slide water; railings; deck surfaces and lounge chairs; food court service counters, tables, and chairs; locker room benches and showers; and retail locations.
“Pay attention to flooring—especially indoors—as germs can grow easily in wet locations,” says Gonzales. Yet, that’s not all. “You also have to attend to ride vehicles and courtesy lifejackets,” she says. While inflatable rafts and slide vehicles, along with guest lifejackets, come in contact with pool water, their surfaces still require attention.
“It is important to clean body oils regularly from such surfaces to allow for disinfection to happen. When not in use, these items should be air-dried so they don’t become a place for mold to grow,” Gonzales says, adding water park operators can always lean on equipment suppliers for guidance.
“Always follow the recommendations of the manufacturer on how to clean, disinfect, and store these items, as it may be specific to the type of material,” she says.
Choices abound when it comes to disinfectants for water park surfaces. These choices range from bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and other potentially harsh chemical products to disinfectant solutions that have been designed to be mild and “skin-safe” for people.
So how to choose which disinfectants to use?
First, “the products you use have to be compatible with the surfaces you’re trying to clean/disinfect and compatible with pool water, because no matter what you do, some of that’s going to get in the water,” says Osinski. This is why skin-safe disinfectants can be a wise choice. Chlorine bleach disinfectants can also be appropriate in pool areas, if chlorine is used already for water treatment.
“Ultraviolet light (UVC) and ozone are all very effective at degrading the virus RNA protein molecule after the protective outer lipid layer has been cleaned and scrubbed away,” says Osinski. UV and ozone systems are available for both air and water.
Next, water parks also need to be sure they’ve chosen disinfectants that are truly effective against current threats like COVID-19. Fortunately, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s “List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2” names products that can kill the coronavirus and similar biological threats.
Readily Available Solutions
As someone who has spent her life around water parks, Osinski has some practical disinfection suggestions for pool park operators, using familiar chemicals that will kill the coronavirus.
“They can use sodium hypochlorite (12-15% liquid pool chlorine compound) for disinfection or use twice as much household bleach (like Clorox), which is manufactured at about half this strength (5.25-6.16%),” she says. “Liquid pool chlorine compound should be diluted with water on a 1:20 ratio (one part chlorine with 20 parts water), or 1:10 for household bleach (one part bleach to 10 parts water).”
It is not enough to clean and then disinfect a surface. In most cases, it needs to be rinsed thoroughly after cleaning, and then rinsed again after disinfection.
The first step is required to prevent toxic chemical interactions between cleaners and disinfectants because mixing vinegar and bleach can create toxic chlorine gas. The second is to limit staff and guests from coming into contact with disinfectants.
An exception is that some manufacturers state their disinfectants don’t require rinsing after application. Osinski’s chlorine-based solution is another exception. “Leave this solution in place and give it enough time to air dry,” she tells Funworld. “Don’t wipe up or squeegee it away.”
Disinfection Takes Time
When a water park decides to disinfect surfaces, its managers must accept the fact that disinfecting properly will take time. The reason? It is the exposure of germs to disinfectants over time that kills these germs. The process is not instantaneous; even when an air-drying approach is acceptable.
“Each disinfectant is different, and they each have a specific ‘dwell time’ needed to effectively kill germs,” explains Gonzales. “Germs are different as they can be viruses, bacteria, or protozoa. The dwell time to kill those germs varies as well. That’s why it is important to read the labels on any disinfectant you use.”
The takeaway: Manually disinfecting surfaces will add time to cleaning routines, including delays to letting the public into disinfected washrooms and other areas during operating hours. This is where park managers should ask their vendors for disinfectants with minimal dwell times and toxic fumes, like skin-safe products that can be left in place. They should then stage “practice runs” to see how much extra time their custodians need to disinfect and clean so work schedules and staffing can be adjusted accordingly. Extra custodians may be required.
Protect Staff with PPE
Disinfectants can be harsh to humans, as well as germs. Therefore, “you want to make sure you are using personal protective equipment (PPE) when using disinfectants,” recommends Gonzales. “If a disinfectant is going to kill germs, it means it likely will hurt human tissues too—like eyes, nasal passages, and skin. Gloves, masks, and eye protection are important to have on hand and use.”
The use of PPE also protects staff from any germs that may be dislodged into the air during disinfection.
Prepare Staff with Properly Devised Procedures
Before applying disinfectants, water park leaders need to develop, teach, and enforce proper procedures with their staff. These procedures include donning the proper PPE before using disinfectants, the prescribed application methods and dwell times for the disinfectants being applied, and any safety concerns associated with exposures to themselves and the general public.
If a facility is large—with a professional custodial staff—chances are that it will be able to develop these procedures with the help of its product suppliers, although outside research is encouraged. If a park is smaller in size, then hiring a third-party consultant can prove beneficial.
“There are also professional groups with local chapters like the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance that can help,” says Osinski. “Every water park is different. What matters is that cleaning is occurring regularly and that disinfection is taking place in an effective way.”
While the task can seem overwhelming, attractions and water parks are already experts at managing germs, according to Osinski.
“If there was ever a place free of germs, it is a well-maintained pool. So it is not a big stretch for these operators to extend this expertise to all other parts of their operations because they already understand disinfection better than most people,” she says.
James Careless is a Canada-based writer who covers the water park industry for Funworld.
Review the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s “List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2” at epa.gov/coronavirus.