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Are Swimming Ponds SAFE to swim in?

On February 22nd Michael interviewed Caroline Murray BSc Hons, FCIM.

The purpose of this interview was to discuss the potential risks of swimming in freshwater ponds with somebody who understands this from a scientific standpoint. Caroline understands how our swimpond system mitigates those risks.

Caroline trained has a biochemist and microbiologist, having completed her first degree at Queen Mary College, University of London. Since then, she has become a leading market specialist in pharmaceutical consultancy with over 25 years’ experience working in Pharmaceutical and Biotech with companies such as Novartis, BMS and Sanofi, to name a few.

We, as a company, have worked very diligently to create a multi-faceted system which covers all the aspects of having a well-balanced clear pond which is also safe to swim in.

When Michael Asked.

“When you look at our system as a whole, does it make you think that we have put anything in as a gimmick or just because it sounds cool, or that it has an actual purpose?”

Caroline’s response was.

Yes absolutely, the combination of elements all solves (Michael Wheat System) a scientific issue. If you just had one of the parts of that system, my feeling is it wouldn’t work.  I remember doing my research on swimponds, it took me 4 or 5 years before I had made up the decision to have the pond installed. I was just not convinced that just the aquatic plants would be enough. I think that’s why we have been on this journey for a number of years because YOU are only now at the point with your system where EACH part of your set up addresses the scientific problem of safe water.”

So, they balance microbial growth, they remove the micro-organisms that shouldn’t be there, and their system keeps the ones that you do want. They maintain an ecological balance. I think that’s what helped me make my decision. It convinced me that his system was the way to go!”

Please see the whole podcast video recording below. We discuss the following topics.

  • Different types of bacterial risks in a swimming pond
  • How to help prevent risks
  • How our system is different to how other swimming ponds are built globally
  • Comparing the risks to swimming in one of our swimming ponds against a chlorine swimming pool
  • Chlorine long term risks
  • Regulations around swimming ponds
  • Why she chooses us to build her swimming pond.

Below is the article Michael wrote about the company’s research and how it mitigates risk.

This article might be every bit different than you expect it to be, I won’t apologise for my truth… 

First though, we take safety very seriously in our company. We have families like yours and making our project safe is very much part of our due diligence. Which required a lot of research and learning.

Be warned this is a lot of reading, not quite lord of the rings and arguably not quite as exciting.

But we care, what can I say.

You see, I have this philosophy that dealing with the CAUSE is better than dealing with the PROBLEM.

By the way, if you want to know if your swimming pond is safe, at the end of this article I’ll share my details for you to get a survey.

From experience, the ‘traditional’ swimming pond build encourages bad bacteria. Read that again because this is not good. There is more than a drowning risk with swimming ponds. Risk mitigation is something we’re obsessed with, but you can’t put arm bands on bacteria.

Here are three key reasons why traditional swimming ponds encourage bad bacteria.

  1. They simply lack the UVs required to remove bad bacteria.
  2. The large planting zones act as silt traps and storage..
  3. The lack of nutrient barriers stopping water getting into the pond.

There is a system that answers all the above…

It considers each element to create a safer swimming environment…

And adapts a new system around it…

Before I share the system let us first look at the main risks in a swimming pond in the UK.

  1. Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  2. Pseudomonas aeruginosa (aka swimmers’ ear)
  3. Leptospirosis (Weil’s disease)
  4. Electrical safety

1. Are swimming ponds safe from E. coli? And other bad bacteria? What about swimmers’ ear

Let me tackle these one at a time starting with Escherichia coli (E.coli). 

Is it something to concern ourselves with? 

In frank terms YES, it is.

The SET UP of your swimming pond is the most crucial element for minimising risk. The same applies to swimming pools when reading this.

Although- the correct pH and chlorine levels take care of E. coli.

The system I’ll share with you has the same impact without using chlorine. As you know, chlorine in a natural swimming pond compromises the whole essence of ‘natural.

Excuse my ignorance, let me explain what Escherichia coli (E. coli) is? E. coli is a bacterium which lives in human and animal intestines and comes out in faeces. If consumed in a human, it will cause sickness and diarrhoea. So not exactly something you want to swim with!

There is something magical about wild swimming and pond swimming. There is a need to take a holistic approach to the way is installed and how it is consumed. Because, without that focus, you miss the key elements which are most important to people. 

As part of the ‘The Michael Wheat System’ installation there are several methods that help tackle the above. Let’s be clear on a few things though.

> It’s uncommon, rare, extremely so, to see traces of faeces in a swimming pond..

> E. coli doesn’t grow in water. If it is present, it is often something recent.  

> Coliforms can show up in spilt soils from insufficient nutrient barriers. This is something we added to the ‘Michael Wheat System’ installs to prevent spillage.

> Only once have we found any trace of E.coli in a ‘traditional’ built swimming pond, this was built by another swimming pond company 4 years ago. (This swimming pond was built with large gravel bed areas with vegetation and is a perfect example of a traditional built swimming pond).

> As part of our maintenance we test the water quality. If you would like to test your swimming ponds water quality contact us and we will put you in contact with the right laboratory. 

> E.Coli generally enters a pond via faeces, this can be human or animal. Assuming the most likely cause is animal there are ways to minimise the possibility of this. But most importantly the pond must be set up in a way to deal with it if it enters the water. 

Caveat: the pond must be set up in a way to deal with it if it enters the water.  

Swimming ponds must be:

Well maintained.

Well oxygenated.

Have good water movement.

Have good all-round UV’s.

Plan for low silt areas.

Those are best practices where any E. coli tends to enter the water.

The ‘Michael Wheat System’ tackles this like nothing else on the market.

> The ‘traditional-type-way’ swimming pond installation encourages silt build up. Due to large gravel areas where silt collects. They also don’t have a treatment plan to tackle it.  

> E. coli can be tackled with treatments to the swimming pond however this will not be necessary if the swimming pond is installed with the ‘Michael Wheat System’.

> The UK doesn’t have many legal definitions on what should and shouldn’t be in swimming water. From research we’ve undertaken there should be a count of less than 1 most probable number (MPN) of E.coli in drinking water. Although a swimming pond isn’t the tastiest drinking water. 1 – 10 is low risk. 11 – 100 is medium risk. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO), a zero count of E. coli per 100 ml of water is considered safe for drinking. A count of 1-10 MPN/100ml is regarded as low risk and 11–100 MPN/100 ml is medium risk.

This information was found on the national library of medicine website. The article discusses the WHO standards on E. Coli in drinking water. 

It’s important to remember that this is something our system has given great thought into. We believe in treating the cause not the problem. 

2. What about Swimmers’ ear? 

Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PsA), is a common bacterium that lives in water. It’s a common type of ‘swimmers’ infection’ and is normally treated with anti-biotics. It’s very common to be found in most water swimming pools, ponds, water features, hot tubs, green houses, squirting bath toys! 

Water can get trapped in some people’s ear canals and if the bacteria is in the water, it can cause an infection. So, if the ear is dried properly then the infection will struggle to take hold.

Here’s an excerpt from an NHS article where it talks about it in natural settings.

+ Sea – PsA has been grown out in the open ocean. Sea water by a beach is most likely contaminated from human faeces. It is worth checking the cleanliness of beaches which can be done online for UK beaches. We suggest swimming in the sea is fine.

+ Lakes can also be contaminated in a similar way to the sea but again we do not believe this is a problem.

+ Rivers – Have isolated PsA but again we would not discourage swimming in a river deemed safe for bathers.

+ Ponds – This is more likely to be a problem in a small stagnant pond due to rotting vegetation e.g., leaves. In that case, avoid it, although it is likely to be safe in a large pond that looks clean.

+ Canals – Like ponds, the water is often stagnant and usually looks dirty. We would suggest avoiding this.

Risks of getting P. aeruginosa from the environment as informed by NHS

The pond part is interesting.

All our swimming ponds have great movement and no stagnant areas, and the water is clean.

By clean we mean the water is clear, the water is correctly balanced and oxygenated. The way we design our projects also means low areas of silt and vegetation due to the filtration and skimming functions. 

And the use of strong UVs in the ‘Michael Wheat System’ aid in sterilising the water turning the water several times throughout ensuring sanitization.

3. What about Leptospirosis? 

Leptospirosis, also called Weil’s disease, is an infection you can get from animals, soil or water. It’s rare in the UK.

Leptospirosis is commonly spread in urine of infected animals, animals such as mice, rats, cows and dogs. (It’s very rare to get it from pets) 

In swimming ponds, we can take precautions to lower any risk of it entering the water. One way in doing this is creating an area where mice and rats are not encouraged to go near or stay close to the pond area. Things like making sure no food is left out etc.

Another key feature is a nutrient barrier to stop anything travelling from soil, a feature on all our swimming ponds. Something that nearly no other swimming pond company does. Yet, it’s so vital. 

4. What about electrics? Electrics and water don’t mix so is it safe to have pumps in the water? 

Great question, the answer is ‘yes’! As long as two major factors are in play. 

  1. The pump wire which sits in the water is 12volt. Meaning it carries a low current and if damaged wouldn’t be deadly to anyone. 
  2. The Mains electrics, cables or sockets are out of reach while someone is stood inside the pond. As long as this is the case there are no risks of death from the electrics.  

I can tell you I’ve seen some horror electrics in swimming ponds. A lack of care and knowledge to the install, exactly why I’m so passionate about building them correctly in the first place! 

Helpful tips on keeping safe from bacteria in a swimming pond…

  1. Have it installed by a company who understands all of the above
  2. Make sure there is a silt management plan in place. 
  3. Shower before and after you have been for a swim.
  4. Keep any cuts covered up with a waterproof plaster.
  5. Don’t leave any food out near the pond. 
  6. A UV system is an absolute non-negotiable.
  7. An external filter to manage the nitrogen cycle and deal with the waste management is essential.

If you would like any more information on the safest, most unique, swimming ponds system, give us a call!

Crystal clear waters…

How do we ENSURE our Swimming pond projects are built to be safe?

Now we know the root cause of these issues how does this industry leading system deal with it?

Of course, we couldn’t give our intellectual property (IP) away. That IP is very much encased in how we put it all together, and in our company guarantees.

For clarity, the key elements are as follows:

  1. Ultra-Violent Clarifiers (UV)
  2. Dissolved oxygen levels
  3. Movement of water
  4. Phosphate management
  5. pH, gH, kH management
  6. Falling leaf management
  7. Nutrient barrier

1. Ultra-Violent Clarifiers (UV)

If a UV is so vital, what is it and what does it do?

In our quest to create the ultimate swimming experience, we incorporate UV-C light bulbs as a vital part of our filtration system. These bulbs emit a specific wavelength, typically above 240 nm, which is highly effective at destroying harmful bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that may compromise the water quality.

But did you know that UV-C light also eradicates urine?

Yes, you read that right! The UV-C wavelength of our meticulously maintained bulbs extends to 280 nm, ensuring that all matter, including any concerns of pest or rodent urine, is eliminated. This leaves your natural swimming pond free from unwanted contaminants, promoting a healthy and hygienic environment.

The Advantages of UV Filtration

Number 1 is Pristine Water Quality: By using UV bulbs in our swimming ponds, we guarantee water that is visually appealing, without any cloudy appearance or foul Odours. Say goodbye to conventional pools with harsh chemicals and hello to pure bliss.

Number 2 is Enhanced Safety: As we mentioned earlier, the UV-C light effectively eliminates harmful microorganisms, minimizing the risk of waterborne illnesses. This is especially important for individuals who enjoy open water or wild swimming, where exposure to untreated water can be a concern.

Number 3 is Low Maintenance: With UV filtration, you can enjoy a hassle-free swimming pond. The bulbs require minimal upkeep, making it an efficient and cost-effective solution for maintaining the purity of your waters.

2. Dissolved Oxygen levels

Oxygen levels in a pond are also essential. Dissolved oxygen helps the quality of water by making it healthy. What it also does is help movement. It also helps break up anaerobic bacteria. Our aim, every-time, is for 96% – 98% oxygen levels in a lake environment. We do this by adding big air-pumps to the water.

3. Movement of water

Water movement means that water doesn’t get stagnant. Stagnant water attracts rodents and bad bacteria.

4. Phosphate management

Generally, UK tap water is around 4mg and bore hole water is around 1.5mg. Algae and blanket weed need phosphates to grow. Blanket weed will grow at 0.035 level. Meaning installing the swimming pond is only a small part of the bigger picture. You can see this from the pictures of blanket weed and blue algae. This is the result of a project not being considered holistically. To do that, you need a company that understands the water chemistry side. Blue algae in particular are dangerous and can kill wildlife – even dogs! 

Blue Green Algae

5. pH, gH, kH management

pH – pH is the pond balance of acid and alkaline. If the pond goes acidic or alkaline it will become unhealthy, and the pond vegetation will not be able to grow successfully. pH goes up and down if the gH and kH is not buffered correctly.

gH and kH – Carbonate hardness is the key to a healthy pond. If this is not buffered correctly plants cannot use phosphates as food.

6. Falling leaf management

There is data in our research to tell us things like; wind direction when placing our skimmers. This ensures we place them in ideal spots to gather leaves and lower the workload needed in the nitrogen cycle..

7. Nutrient barrier

We install barriers that stop water entering the pond. This prevents nutrients entering the pond and changing the water chemistry of the pond.

There are many other considerations which are specific to each swimming pond. If you have any specific questions or would like to set up a call you can reach us by completing the enquiry form below or if you would like to learn more about the ‘Michael Wheat System’.

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