One in three spa could make you sick

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

Originally written in French,  this article was published on October 31, 2014, edition of the daily paper Le Journal de Montréal.

Article written by: CATHERINE BOUCHARD

Over the last few months, Le Journal de Montréal has visited 30 recreation centres 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 bacterium.

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


“It’s hard to heal”, says the expert.


Difficult to remove

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the pet peeve of spa owners, says Hamilton. “It’s a bacteria that shouldn’t normally be 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 explains. The E. coli bacterium known to cause gastroenteritis and urinary tract infections, was detected in only one of the 30 health centres 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 centres 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.


Industry ready to be tested

Informed of Le Journal’s investigation, the Quebec Spa Association, which represents 45 health centres, admits that many of its members find it difficult to comply with the standards in force. “We just finished the annual 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.


3 problems identified in water

  • 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.

Spa water can make you get sick?

The valuable opinion of Jean-Pierre Lajoie, co-president of A.S.I. Aquatic Expert, special guest on the Mario Dumont Show, shares his point of view:


Click here to watch the video (in French)

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