One in three spa could make you sick

One-third of Quebec’s recreation centers offer their customers spas whose water contains a disturbing amount of potentially harmful bacteria, according to the Journal de Montreal survey.

Article written by: CATHERINE BOUCHARD

Over the last few months, the Journal de Montreal has visited 30 recreation centers in secret and randomly, and has the spa water analyzed by experts. In one out of three cases, the samples collected revealed an abnormal – or limited – presence of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a very resistant bacteria.

It can cause or aggravate infections already present on the skin. And its treatment can be difficul, warns the microbiologist Marc Hamilton, president and CEO of Environex, who conducted the water tests on behalf of the Journal.


”It’s hard to heal”», says the expert.



Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the pet peeve of spa owners, says Hamilton. ”It’s a bacterium that should’nt be normally found in spas,” he says. This is the most difficult to eliminate. ”Its presence can however be controlled using a chlorination system specifically dosed to eliminate it, he says. The E. coli bacterium, known to cause gastroenteritis and urinary tract infections, was detected in only one of the 30 health centers visited by Le Journal.


”If you find it in a spa, it’s synonymous with faeces in the water,” says Hamilton. The tests conducted during our investigation also revealed turbidity problems in the water of three centers of relaxation. ”The higher the turbidity, the more water can run out of filtration,” says Hamilton. This increases the risk of bacteria settling there, ”he says. A number of bathers above the capacity of the basin, poor filtration and poorly dosed chemicals can explain the problem of turbidity, says the microbiologist. A variety of materials, such as skin, dust and sand are therefore suspended in the water.



Informed of the Journal’s investigation, the Quebec Spa Association, which represents 45 health centers, admits that many of its members find it difficult to comply with the standards in force. ”We just finished the annuel meeting and the issues of water testing and pond maintenance were very lively topics,” says Claire Levasseur, executive director of the organization. ”We would like the Ministry of Environment – as the MAPAQ does in restaurants – tests. It would give additional assurance to the public,” she says.



► Intestinal bacterium of mammals, very common in humans
What it can cause : 
► Digestive infections (gastro)
► Otorhinolaryngologic al infections
► Turbidity is the content of particles suspended in water
► The higher it is, the more bacteria will grow there
► Occurs naturally in water, vegetation and soil
► Resistant to antibiotics and disinfectants
What it can cause :
► Various infections
► Increased risk for immunocompromised individuals, burn victims and cystic fibrosis
► Septicemia
► Systemic infections

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