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Taking Action: Undercover water testing returns positive for total coliform at popular splash pad

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -  Summer is in full swing. For many folks looking to cool off, one easy way to do that is to head to a splash pad. There are many across the Tennessee Valley. WHNT NEWS 19 is Taking Action to keep you and your family safe. We went undercover to check the water.

On July 5th, WHNT NEWS 19 collected water samples from seven sites across north Alabama. The locations are as follows:

  • The Bicentennial Park Splash Pad in downtown Huntsville.
  • Everybody Can Play Splash Pad in Brahan Spring Park in Huntsville.
  • Dr. Richard Showers, Sr. Splash Pad in Huntsville.
  • Pop Jet Fountain at Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville.
  • The River Heritage Park Splash Pad in Florence.
  • Riverwild Splash Pad at Delano Park in Decatur.
  • SNAP Playground in Hartselle.

We took the water samples to an Alabama Department of Environmental Management certified lab to be checked for total coliform and E.coli. All of them checked out fine, except for one. The Everybody Can Play Splash Pad tested positive for total coliform. We collected a second sample on July 23rd and it too came back positive for total coliform.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines total coliforms as a group of related bacteria that are, with a few exceptions, not harmful to humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if a water system tests positive for coliforms, it can mean recent contamination with soil or human feces. To be clear fecal coliform and E.coli, which carry an immediate risk of waterborne disease, were not present.

WHNT NEWS 19 presented the results to the City of Huntsville Parks & Recreation Department.

"I'm not really surprised that there is total coliform," says CJ Van Kampen, the Aquatics Facilities Mechanical Supervisor.

Van Kampen is responsible for maintaining the city's three splash pads and four pools. Chlorine and pH levels are checked at least three times a day at each site.

"The model aquatic health code recommends that water parts of free chlorine be between five and ten parts per million," explains Van Kampen. "We maintain that the best we can and even hedge on the higher side."

Van Kampen says there are so many variables that could have led to the positive results for total coliform.

"Anytime we get big rains or windy weather, a lot of the mulch and different organic materials from the playground can blow in," describes Van Kampen. "The rain water itself can be a culprit for a lot of stuff."

Even wildlife nearby, like geese, are another variable. However, Van Kampen assures the public, neglect is not one of them.

"In your opinion, do you think there should be any concern about those test results or do you feel confident in what you guys are doing?", asked WHNT NEWS 19's Clarissa McClain.

"Any harmful coliform that can make kids or humans sick is killed off in less than 60 seconds at one part per million," responded Van Kampen. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, we're five times that level."

The City of Huntsville does have rules posted at the splash pad and encourages visitors to wear proper swimwear, supervise their children, leave pets at home and don`t drink the water. If you have any questions or concerns about the test results, the Parks & Recreation department says please give them a call. If you're out at any of the facilities and want to report an issue, call (256) 883-3700.