Parents Should Be Aware Of These Hidden Dangers In Water Parks

As the temperatures heat up, what could be better than splashing around at a water park? The water wonderlands have been a summer favourite with families for decades. But while they can be undeniably fun locations, knowing the risks they pose might make parents think twice before planning their next visit.

Now, it’s no overstatement that water parks are one of the summer’s most popular destinations, in America and worldwide. For instance, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon in Orlando, Florida is the most popular in the United States and saw 2.25 million visitors pass through its gates in 2019. And the Sunshine State is also home to the country’s second most visited water park. Yes, Disney’s Blizzard Beach had two million visitors in the same period.

In fact, water parks are so popular that there are more than a thousand in the United States alone. And even when the sun isn’t shining, you can still get your fill of water slides or wave pools all year round at an indoor water park. So just what is the draw for families?

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Undoubtedly, the rides are the biggest attraction at a water park. Ranging from kid-friendly slides to almost sheer drops at dizzying speeds, there’s something to suit everyone’s level of adventure. Add to that wave machines and lagoons, and it’s seemingly the perfect day out for a fun-loving family.

Take the Wild Wadi water park in Dubai. Its famed Jumeirah Sceirah slide sees anxious visitors waiting in a pod. When it opens, they are plunged 120 meters down at 50 miles per hour. As if zipping downwards wasn’t thrilling enough, on the Tower of Power slide at Siam Park in Tenerife, guests fly through a shark-filled tank on their way to the bottom.

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Furthermore, if waterslides are your thing, you could try the 3,645 feet long colossus at Escape park in Penang, Malaysia. It opened in August 2019 and officially holds the Guinness World Record for the longest tube water slide in the world. After reaching the top by chairlift, visitors experience a scenic four-minute ride down the jungle hillside.

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But the States has its fair share of water park thrills too. On the Master Blaster Uphill Water Coaster at Schlitterbahn park in New Braunfels, Texas, visitors hurtle up, as well as down hill. And while the Mammoth ride at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana is no longer the longest water ride in the world, it’s still 1,763 feet long.

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So far, so fun. But every parent knows that a day out with the family comes with a degree of responsibility. As in any busy location, the risk of young children getting separated from their parents and lost is a real one. And in an environment where there are large pools of water, it’s all the more worrying.

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Even if children aren’t separated from their parents, a summer’s day out at a water park poses further everyday anxieties. Yes, in high temperatures, it’s especially important for younger members of the family to be wearing sunscreen to prevent sunburn. This will need to be frequently reapplied, as it is easily washed off in the water.

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By the same measure, parents will need to ensure that the whole family is staying hydrated. While this may seem ironic at a water park, kids can expend a lot of energy, especially on a hot day. But what if the little ones are drinking water from the pool? Well, we’ll get to that later.

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On top of that, happy memories might not be the only thing you or your child could bring home with you. Verrucas, which are caused by a virus, bring mildly painful black specks under hard skin on your feet. And they spread in wet environments, making changing areas an ideal breeding ground for them, as well as other foot fungus.

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However, there are even more serious health risks at play at water parks. Although the pool water might look dazzlingly clean when it sparkles in the sun, appearances can be deceptive. You see, with so many people constantly in the water, it can easily become contaminated.

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Perhaps the problem is that people get lulled into a false sense of security by knowing that water in swimming pools is chlorinated. Of course, it’s true that chlorine is an excellent way of killing dangerous bacteria in water. And if everyone were to shower as recommended before they got into the pool, the chlorine would work well.

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But unfortunately, they don’t. Therefore, all the pollutants on our skin such as sunscreen, hair treatments, perfume and even sweat serve to dilute the chlorine and render it less effective. Showering would not only help remove these products, but also the parasite cryptosporidium that is particularly resistant to chlorine.

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Cryptosporidium, or crypto as it’s more commonly called, can cause diarrhea and a cough in those unlucky enough to ingest it. And it spreads through human feces, which means that if your fellow water park users have questionable hygiene it can enter the water. With that, it’s now time to get onto swim diapers.

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While these should keep feces out of the water, if a baby is sick with diarrhea then it likely won’t be contained. So it’s important that parents change their babies’ swim diapers regularly, and wash the child before entering the water. Above all, don’t let any sick family member go in the pool.

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Mind you, crypto isn’t the only lurgi potentially lurking unseen at a water park. In 2013 a study carried out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 58 percent of public pools harbored E.coli. Once again, the dangerous bacteria originates from, you’ve guessed it, feces.

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According to the CDC, you can’t always pin this on the swim diapers. They estimate that the majority of people have 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms at any one time. Of course, the best place to wash this off is in the shower, before you get into the pool.

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Ironically, another invisible hazard is one that is there to protect you – chlorine. Problems occur when it is used in the wrong quantity, and can result in dangerous levels of chlorine gas in the air. When inhaled, this can cause burning and swelling in the mouth and throat, as well as stomach pain and vomiting.

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In severe cases, the poisoning can lead to serious eye injury and even death. Incidences of chlorine poisoning at water parks are rare but can happen. Back in 2014, 26 people were hospitalized after being exposed to excessive levels of the gas while swimming in the wave pool at Michigan Adventure water park.

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That’s not to say that there aren’t some unpleasant things floating around in the water that you can see. Workers at water parks have reported finding numerous small dead animals in the drains. On top of that, fake nails, diapers and hair pieces sometimes find their way into the filters.

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While these are undoubtedly unpleasant to come across in the pool, there are more deadly hazards too. One of the most obvious of these, of course, is the risk of drowning. Infants and young children are sadly most at risk, with drowning being the leading cause of accidental death of children aged between one and four years old.

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And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, almost 70 percent of accidental drownings happen during times when the child is not expected to be in the water. So all the more reason to keep an eye on your child even when you’re having a break. And that still leaves 30 percent of times when the child is known to be swimming.

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Interestingly, wave pools pose the biggest risk for drowning incidents. And that’s because it can be difficult to distinguish between those having a wild time in the water and someone who has got into difficulty. In fact, three people drowned in the wave pool at New Jersey’s Action park before it closed down in 1996.

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What’s more, water parks are not regulated on a national level, but are rather left in the hands of the local government. Worryingly, this means there is no uniform regulation of water parks, and some are effectively left to regulate themselves. So it’s a good idea to check out how the park you want to visit actually is monitored before you go.

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It goes without saying that the best way of making sure your family members stay safe is to keep a close eye on them at all times. Yes, you or another responsible adult should always be within an arm’s reach of a young child. It’s also recommended that weak swimmers wear a life jacket in case they get into difficulties.

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But it’s not just children who are at risk at water parks. Unsurprisingly, a combination of long slides, water and high speeds can be dangerous for anyone. Yes, and a five-year study in New Jersey found that 40 percent of incidents at all amusement parks and carnivals happened at water parks.

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And almost a quarter of all accidents that occurred at amusement parks happened on waterslides, according to the report released by NJ.com in 2014. In total, water slide accidents accounted for 123 out of 284 overall incidents at amusement parks in New Jersey. That’s despite these slides only making up 11 percent of the total rides in the state.

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“People can put themselves into positions that were not originally intended,” said a spokesperson for New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs. “Water flow is still not an exact science and unpredictable things can happen.” But while most slides and attractions are usually safe if they are used as intended, problems can occur when they’re not.

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In case you were in any doubt, there’s a very good reason that you are told to go down a slide feet first, with your arms crossed over your chest. Going head first can lead to head and spinal injuries. Sometimes these injuries are so severe that they can cause paralysis.

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“What can often look on the face of it to be a quick and innocent thrill on these attractions can have potential to cause significant injury – that is something any impact head-on at high speed can cause,” Evan Davies, a consultant spinal surgeon told BBC News in 2019.

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Davies added that, “life can change in an instant” as sometimes “no level of surgery can recover the damage caused in a moment of madness.” However, the instruction to go feet first down slides with your arms across your chest is not the only one to adhere to.

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Yes, height and weight restrictions on rides are there for a very good reason. If your child is too small or light, they can fly off. If a person is too heavy, they might get stuck or enter the splash pool with too much force. It’s also important that the stipulated amount of people are on the ride, for similar weight considerations.

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Tragically, in 2016 a ten-year-old boy was killed on a water slide at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City. Yes, Caleb Schwab was decapitated on the Verrückt ride, which means “insane” in German. The ride measured 168 feet tall and featured a 17-story drop.

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In fact, the boy happened to be the son of Kansas state representative Scott Schwab. After the accident, safety laws were improved and the park’s owner, operations manager and lead ride designer were arrested. Criminal charges were sought against Schlitterbahn, but they were later thrown out. And the ride was eventually taken down.

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Although Schwab’s death was devastating, such occurrences are thankfully rare. However, like we’ve talked about, other lesser injuries are alarmingly commonplace. For instance, in 2015, 4,200 water park visitors needed hospital treatment, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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In the same year, one person was thought to have drowned and three more almost drowned at water parks in the U.S, according to The Associated Press. Yet there’s another potentially fatal hazard lurking in the water – a so-called “brain-eating” water-borne amoeba which you’re most at risk of in a natural pool or lake.

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Now, the real name of the amoeba is Naelgleria fowleri. And it can live in the silt at the bottom of lakes and rivers, particularly when the water is shallow and warm. In 2013 12-year-old Kali Hardig came into contact with it and developed a form of parasitic meningitis called primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

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Interestingly, it’s thought that Hardig was exposed to it after swimming at The Willow Springs Water Park in Arkansas, which is a park with natural lakes. Unfortunately, it is dangerous when it enters your nose – which happens easily when diving into water or shooting down a slide. Thankfully, Hardig recovered but the park closed.

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We’ve seen how dangerous water parks can be. But still, swimming and spending time outside having fun are good for everyone’s mental and physical health. Being forewarned is forearmed, so check out the safety credentials of the water park you plan to visit and follow the rules. Oh, and remember to shower before you swim.

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