Taking Action Investigation Update: Testing the Waters

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - For many kids, summer break is already or almost over. However, the summer heat will likely stick around for a while longer and so will the need for a cool down. One of the most popular places is public splash parks.

Last summer, in a Taking Action Investigation, WHNT NEWS 19 conducted undercover water testing at seven different sites across north Alabama. We collected samples and tested the water for potentially harmful bacteria, total coliform and E. coli. Now, a year later, we decided to do a re-test.

We revisited all seven test sites. Because of the popularity of these splash pads and parks, the water quality is important to ensure safety.

Working undercover, WHNT NEWS 19 collected water samples from the seven test sites. The goal is to make sure the water that you and your family use as a safe haven from the heat is safe. The focus of our investigation was free splash parks only.

We collected samples from the River Heritage Park Splash Pad in Florence, Riverwild Splash Pad inside Decatur's Delano Park, the Scottsboro Splash Park, H.A. Alexander Park Splash Pad in Moulton, Heritage Park water play area in Cullman, as well as the Jane K. Lowe Children's Fountain at the Bicentennial Park in downtown Huntsville and the interactive fountains at Bridge Street Town Centre.

A WHNT NEWS 19 producer took the samples to Enersolv in Decatur. Enersolv is certified by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to do bacteriological water testing.  Dr. Bill Hollerman, the Vice President of Technical Services, processed the samples.

To be fair, all the locations were kept confidential. The labels only had numbers, dates and times. Hollerman tested the water for total coliform and E. coli. After a 24-hour incubation period, the results came back and were all clear!

During our last investigation in July and August of 2011, that wasn’t the case. The Jane K. Lowe Children's Fountain had one positive reading for total coliform. Bridge Street Town Centre twice tested positive for both total coliform and E. coli. Last summer, managers from both locations responded immediately once we revealed those results.

Bridge Street General Manager Rochelle Allgood even shut down the fountain for a few days back in August 2011 to “shock” clean the system and adjust the rules to make them stricter.

This time, there were no problems. All of the locations checked out fine.

“It was a pleasant result to see so many with neither total coliform nor the E. coli present,” says Hollerman.

Exposure to E. coli can lead to serious health problems.

“E. coli are bacteria that are present in animal and human waste,” explains Hollerman. “It’s a subgroup of total coliform. That’s why the response to E. coli has to be more severe than the total coliform.”

Hollerman credits the improved results to diligent park operators.

“I think probably the previous testing created an awareness of this,” says Hollerman.

He encourages the public to continue to be responsible guests.

“The operators can only do so much,” says Hollerman. “Parents, grandparents, or any caretaker who has children there needs to be careful that their children are behaving appropriately and diapers are clean and that they’re not contaminating the system themselves.”

WHNT NEWS 19 did reach out to Bridge Street Town Centre again this year. General Manager Rochelle Allgood says they continued to implement the improvements made last year and are pleased with the results.