Warning: Grossness ahead!

A few years back, the District renovated the Francis pool, at 25th and N Streets NW, to include a wade-in kiddie area. The change ushered in a major demographic shift at a pool that was once the province of mostly gay guys in thongs. Today, the pool is a regular hangout for the Bugaboo stroller set. The change has also turned the pool into a major public health hazard, as those gaggles of babies in swim diapers are a major source of effluence at the popular public pool.

Yesterday, sitting in the wade-in area, I watched in horror as an Italian dad plopped his 7- or 8-month-old baby in nothing but a Huggie’s swim diaper in the water and swung him around, spewing a wake of poop behind him. The baby deposited a major soupy load at the tip of the wading area as the dad finally pulled him out of the water and ran him into the locker room—without alerting a lifeguard to the incident.

Eventually, after many minutes, the guards blew the whistle and cleared the pool, to much griping from the patrons, who did not make the expected Caddyshack-like exit upon hearing the news. But the lifeguards’ sluggish response suggests raises questions about poop protocol. Pool poop isn’t just gross. It can be a deadly source of all sorts of pathogens, from e. coli to giardia to hepatitis A.

In 1998, 26 kids who’d visited a Georgia water park were sickened with e. coli linked to poop in the underchlorinated water. Seven landed in the hospital with strokes, kidney failure and other dangerous conditions and one died. In Utah last year, nearly 2,000 people were sickened with cryptosporidium, a nasty stomach bug spread through fecal matter that was so rampant in Utah pools that by summer’s end, the state had to ban kids under 5 from taking a dip. Utah even considered banning kids in diapers permanently the problem was so bad. Judging from yesterday’s events, Francis might be headed for a similar situation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s brochure “What to do if you find poop in the pool?”, the Italian baby’s eruption was in fact, a big deal, and a far worse problem than that of the “formed stool” variety. Such fecal incidents require serious remediation. The CDC recommends clearing the pool and then, after physically removing whatever brown stuff is still floating (though not with the vacuum), it says the pool needs hypercholorinating to kill off major pathogens. If the Francis staff had followed these rules, the pool would be out of commission for anywhere from 6 to 25 hours, depending on how much chlorine was in the pool at the time of the incident (which, from my sniff test, probably wasn’t enough). The baby let fly around 5:30 last night. When I called today, the pool was set to open on time at 1 p.m. Here’s hoping the chemicals are doing their job.

—Stephanie Mencimer