‘Spray parks’ now subject to state inspection
By HOLLY ZACHARIAH
Ever wondered whether those playful sprays of water that randomly shoot from the ground at public fountains, the ones that send children into uncontrollable fits of giggles, are safe?
State officials did, so the Ohio Department of Health changed its rules.
Since April 1, every splash pad or spray park — communities give them different names — must be inspected and licensed by local health officials. The license costs $72 this year and goes to $80 in 2012.
The new process is supposed to ensure that the shooting and spraying water is properly filtered and chemically treated.
“It just makes sense,” said Fred Hahn, director of parks and open spaces for Dublin. “These things are wildly popular, and there’s more and more of them around. It’s water, and we’re playing in it, so it should be safe.”
Even before the new regulations, Dublin had plans to renovate its spray park at Ballantrae. Last summer, there were sometimes as many as 200 people there at once, and the filtering system wasn’t meant to handle that large a crowd.
The spraying water dissipates quickly, especially on hot and windy days. When less water is recaptured in the spray park’s reservoir, it is difficult to keep the chlorine and disinfectant levels right, Hahn said.
The spray park has been licensed, but the city is limiting the hours this year from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 to 5:30 p.m. each day so employees can check the chemicals more often and adjust if necessary. Then, the park will close for the year, most likely in August, for an upgrade.
Powell, Easton Town Center and Barnett Community Center on the East Side also have spray grounds.
As part of the rules now in place, new splash parks will have to meet design standards and receive state approval before construction, said Jen House, spokeswoman for the state Health Department.
Because these spraying fountains are so popular, Columbus would like to add more someday, said Recreation and Parks Director Alan McKnight.
The one at Barnett opened in 2006, when officials already anticipated that such fountains eventually would be regulated, he said.
The water features landed in the cross hairs of public-health officials in 2005 after a spray park in New York was blamed for an outbreak of cryptosporidium, a parasitic illness that causes diarrhea and vomiting. Nearly 4,000 people were sickened.
The new Ohio rules also specify that debris and vegetation can’t be allowed to accumulate on the splash pad and, by next spring, every spray park must have a sign warning people not to play there if they have diarrhea and not to drink the water.