An incident at a Seattle hotel in late June was the kind of horrific scene you hope will never happen when you go for a dip to cool off or swim a few laps.
27-year-old Tesfaye Girma Deboch had been swimming at the Quality Inn and Suites pool when he went under the water and drowned. The water in the pool was so murky that firefighters didn’t find him when they first showed up to search for the Washington State University graduate student.
It wasn’t until a second trip to the hotel that firefighters found Deboch’s body, despite the fact they had used a rescue hook and thermal camera on the first attempt.
"We step into the shallow end of the pool. I'm walking across and looking down and this is the murkiest pool I've ever seen," said Tom Fleming, a guest who had been to the pool at the same time. "You couldn't even see your hand 18 inches below the surface of the pool."
We later learned that the hotel pool had a history of critical violations, including health and safety violations that had forced them to close the pool for a few days just months prior.
That got us here at KATU wondering if there are problem pools in the Portland area?
More: Interactive maps with pool inspection data
We assumed that finding pools in the metro area with violations would be a fairly simple task by searching county databases. We discovered, however, that the information is much harder to come by.
When we went to Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas Counties we only got raw incident and inspection reports; there were thousands of them in all.
As we browsed the inspection reports we found pools at hotels, gyms and apartment complexes that were rife with violations like “cloudy water” and “broken equipment.” Some pools also reportedly had no chlorine in the water.
“The two things we’re concerned about are health and safety,” said Julie Sullivan Springhetti with Multnomah County.
She said any water attraction open to the public – pools, spas or splash pads – can be shut down immediately if it fails a mandatory inspection.
Pools that are open seasonally must be inspected once a year, while year-round pools must pass inspections twice a year.
“When it gets out of whack, when there is, say, very low levels of chlorine we’re going to close it down until a pool operator can bring it back up,” said Sullivan Springhetti.
Chlorine levels seem to be a consistent problem. Too much in a pool can lead to incidents like the one last year at Club Sport in Tualatin. In that case kids started having breathing problems and some threw up. Ten children had to be treated at the hospital.
On the other hand, too little chlorine may mean the pool water is not sanitized, putting the health of swimmers at risk.
Inspection reports we saw showed problems at another popular gym – the 24 Hour Fitness at Mall 205.
That pool was temporarily closed down by inspectors in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Violations included having cloudy water and low chlorine levels.
In Beaverton, the Hilton Doubletree hotel faced closures during that same time period for things like low chlorine levels, cloudy water and high pH levels, which can burn your eyes.
The types of pools that faced temporary closures ran the gamut of facilities. We found reports of problems at apartment complexes, private schools and camps. Even the swanky Oregon Golf Club and Timberline Lodge had problems noted in the reports.
At Timberline, reports showed that the spa pool has had violations every year for the past four years. In 2012 an inspector said that the pool operator was not knowledgeable on good practices of spa operation.
When looking through Clackamas County records we noticed that some pools, like the ones at Fairway Crest Condos and Sequoia Village Apartments, simply hadn’t been inspected because the county inspector couldn’t access the pools.
We asked Clackamas County Environmental Health manager Julie Hamilton how often that happens.
“I can say as a whole it’s not the normal. We do a very good job of getting out and doing our inspections,” Hamilton said.
She did, however, acknowledge that the county’s system has room for improvement. Right now each inspector keeps his or her own records and has his or her own method for following up.
“I can say it gets the job done,” Hamilton said. “It does get the job done in the way that’s required by the state. It provides what we need to provide at minimum.”
View Problem Pools - Multnomah County in a full screen map
View Problem Pools - Washington County in a full screen map
View Problem Spas - Washington County in a full screen map
View Problem Pools - Clackamas County in a full screen map