Whitby spa closed due to staph in pool releases operational audit

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Published November 2, 2022 at 9:59 pm

A comprehensive audit on the saltwater pool at Thermea spa village in Whitby – closed since October 14 after a rash of staph infections incurred by patrons – has determined there were three key factors that resulted in a malfunction of the disinfectant system in the pool.

  • A valve on the bromine erosion system failed sometime after launch. The audit has not determined if this was due to a manufacturing defect, installation error or some other cause.
  • An ultraviolet disinfectant system, which functions as a secondary safety measure to destroy any bacteria that escapes the bromine, failed because of a ‘flow switch’ malfunction, which caused the ultraviolet system to fall into maintenance mode and not serve its primary function. The switch has been replaced.
  • The highly concentrated 14 per cent solution of salt in the Källa pool impacted the bromine puck’s ability to dissolve in the water, rendering the bromine ineffective. As such, the pool will be converted to chlorine – a proven effective chemical for sanitizing saltwater pools.

Groupe Nordik, the owners of the spa village, said the Källa pool and “all related systems” are being completely drained, sanitized, and re-assembled to allow for the use of liquid chlorine, which does not need to dissolve.

All eight pools at the spa village were closed when Durham Region’s Health Department informed the operators that pseudomonas and staphylococcus (or staph) bacteria was discovered in the Kalla saltwater pool. Since that news broke more than 30 people have signed on to a class action lawsuit filed against Groupe Nordik by veteran Toronto personal injury lawyer Justin Linden, who said notice of the lawsuit has already been sent to the Gatineau-based spa company and the actual lawsuit will be issued “as soon as the court can stamp it.”

Legal notices were sent to Groupe Nordik CEO Martin Paquette on October 21 and 26 advising him of the upcoming lawsuit to “recover damages” from exposure to contaminants at the spa.

Linden said his clients have experienced ear infections and hearing loss, skin outbreaks and other symptoms. “Many of them have gone through multiple courses of antibiotics and the symptoms are continuing.”

There were concerns raised by the Region of Durham’s Health Department before the spa opened on October 6 and there were public complaints made as early as October 10, but Paquette said his company was not made aware that staph bacteria was detected in the saltwater pool until October 14.

The saltwater pool, as well as all other pools on the site, were subsequently closed.

Paquette issued a statement six days later declaring an investigation into the situation and a full-scale audit into the operation and maintenance of the pools, adding that “this is the first and only incident of its kind in our two decades as a company.”

But communication, or lack of same, is at the heart of the pending lawsuit, Linden claimed. “They were late in notifying people and they continued operating after Durham Health informed them there were problems.”

The bottom line, Linden added, is that people got sick going to a health spa. “If you go to a health spa it should be healthy and they got sick. It was the complete opposite of what should have happened.”

Linden said he has spoken to at least 50 people who suffered staph infections of various degrees after their experience at the Kalla pool – billed as the largest saltwater pool in North America – and more people are willing to share their experience every day.

“We continue to get calls from new people who were at the spa.”

Paquette said in his statement that he apologized to guests who were “impacted” by the delay in responding. Some have since been offered refunds of $58, the equivalent cost of the Kalla saltwater pool treatment before taxes are applied.

The Groupe Nordik audit was overseen by the corporate team at Groupe Nordik, their pool builder and designer, as well as Dr. Roy Vore, a microbial physiologist specializing in recreational water illnesses and the chairman of the Sanitation and Regulation Committee for the Floatation Tank Association.

“In our 20 years of operation, we have never had an incident like this in any of our pools. It is our intention never to have an incident like this again,” Groupe Nordik said in a statement.

With files from Liam McConnell

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