4 Investigates: Are splash pads as safe and clean as you'd expect? | KOB 4

4 Investigates: Are splash pads as safe and clean as you'd expect?

Nathan O'Neal
September 14, 2018 10:28 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Splash pads are a growing attraction at parks across New Mexico. Kids love them, and parents love to take their kids there.


However, your child’s favorite water play place may not be as safe and clean as you'd expect.

A KOB 4 investigation found that not all splash pads are created equal in New Mexico and, by that same token, they’re not all tested the same way either.

We collected water samples from three of the newest splash pads in New Mexico, including one at Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza, one at The El Vado in Albuquerque and at A Park Above in Rio Rancho. An independent lab, Environmental Testing Services, tested the samples for bacteria.

“It is like a risk test and, according to the EPA, that risk should be zero,” said Angelina Gallegos, the lab's director.

The new splash pad at Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza passed the test with zero bacterial growth, and so did the splash pad at the El Vado in Albuquerque.

However, one sample from A Park Above failed. According to the results from Environmental Testing Services, the water at the Rio Rancho splash pad showed signs of fecal bacteria.

Further testing revealed no trace of E. Coli, which can lead to serious illness. But Gallegos said the risk for contamination is real.

“It is a good indicator that because it’s growing total coliform that it could very easily grow E. Coli if it was introduced – even one bacteria – if it was introduced into the water it could flourish in that system,” Gallegos said.

Unlike a majority of splash pads in New Mexico, the one at A Park Above does not have an underground filtration system. The state allows this exception because the water is not recycled.

Parents like Polly Anderson worry the Rio Rancho splash pad could be a breeding ground for bacteria and a real risk for her 2-year-old son, Benjamin.

“This is just like a recipe for disaster,” Anderson said. "There are so many little kids with poopy diapers running around and getting everywhere... poop and pee, yeah it's horrible.”

The 4 Investigates team obtained a year’s worth of state inspections on splash pads around New Mexico. The records reveal splash pads with recycled water systems are subject to routine on-site checks of both chlorine and PH levels.

However, that is not the case for the Rio Rancho park.

While the New Mexico Environment Department conducts on-site inspections at A Park Above to determine whether a first aid kit is available and inspects nearby electrical wiring, the quality of the water is not inspected on site.

“That’s the same water that you’re using to drink or bathe in… that comes to your house,” said Bruce Yurdin, director of the New Mexico Water Protection Division.

Yurdin said that because the water at Rio Rancho’s water treatment facility is already tested and the splash pad uses that same drinking water, no further testing is needed.

However, he conceded splash pads that do not use recycled water could be exposed to contamination.

“There’s the potential for it. It’s not the same as your kitchen sink or the tap at your kitchen sink but there is the potential for it to be there,” Yurdin said.

Gallegos said the risk for contamination is surface level.

“There is stagnant water sitting there, and it’s right on the jets that are coming out of the water. So whatever bacteria that is sitting on the ground is now coming up in the jet,” she said.

When it comes to sanitation of the splash pad itself, state environment officials said it’s up to the owner and operator of the facility. In this case, the City of Rio Rancho.

“The community or the owner of that splash pad would be responsible for making sure there is proper drainage and that all the trash and debris is picked up… clean and litter-free,” Yurdin said.

In a statement provided to 4 Investigates, a Rio Rancho City spokesperson wrote that “staff power washes the spray pad once a week” and “no chemicals are used.”  Repeated requests for an on-camera interview regarding the city’s splash pad maintenance were denied.

As for park patrons like Anderson, she wants more safeguards in place to help protect both her little boy and the rest of the community.

“I honestly feel like the risk is just too high,” she said.  


Nathan O'Neal

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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