Water parks are a rapidly growing element of the United States tourist industry. To reduce incidence of abrasion and impact injuries in such parks, designers are searching for padding materials that can withstand the harsh oxidative environments of chlorinated water. Although padded features help reduce physical injuries, they may also compromise the microbiological safety of water attractions. This study describes bacteriological testing performed on 31 different pad materials, play features and pools from 10 Wisconsin water parks. Materials and surrounding pool waters were sampled and tested quantitatively for total coliforms, Escherichia coli, E. coli 0157:H7, enterococci, staphylococci, heterotrophic bacteria, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, using standard methods. Each location was sampled during three visits, and results were averaged. Pool waters were within acceptable levels of target organisms and disinfectant residuals, but target organisms were found on water features, even those submerged in chlorinated water. Bacteria were detected more frequently in pools using pad materials compared with pools without. These findings provide data that will help the public health community understand the relations between designs, materials and maintenance of water features. Additionally, the information will help state regulators and owner/operators develop guidelines to improve public health and safety at water parks.

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