Sickness And Scary Slides: A Day At The Waterpark

Waterparks seem like a safe day of amusement.

By Prasit Rodphan /

The Associated Press says 1,300 U.S. waterparks attracted more than 85 million visitors in 2015, a staggering percentage of the American public. And according to CNN, the International Association for Amusement Parks said that, “while approximately 335 million people visit amusement parks in the United States each year, the likelihood of sustaining a serious injury at an amusement park that would lead to an overnight stay at a hospital is one in 16 million.”

But amusement parks and waterparks have inconsistent regulation or no regulation at all; Romper reveals that more than 4,200 people per year are taken to the emergency room from a waterpark related injury. This number only includes people hurt on waterslides, with “scrapes, concussions, broken limbs, spinal injuries, and other such injuries,” according to the AP.

[Check out our Security Tips For the Waterpark.]

The number doesn’t include other waterpark injuries, or people who need lifeguard assistance but refused an ER trip. In addition to this, there was one drowning and three near-drownings at U.S. waterparks in 2015 — that we know about, because there may be no laws in place that require waterparks to report these incidents.

Basically, these slides may not be as innocuous as they seem. 

Take the death of Caleb Schwab, a ten-year-old Ohio boy who visited the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City on August 6, 2016. He was riding the tallest water slide in the world, the Verruckt: which Time cites as 168 feet tall and named for the word “insane” in German. It turns out the owner, who opened the park at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, decided to build the biggest waterslide ever to attract thrillseekers, according to KSHB Kansas City. And it did, indeed, make the Guinness Book of World Records.

However, the builders didn’t have the training to build such a monstrosity, and they were aware that rafts were going airborne — something they eventually ignored. They surrounded the slide with nets held up by metal hoops. Several injuries ensued, including concussions and a slipped disc. They were ignored. And after Caleb’s death, the ride was tweaked and then re-opened for some time. Now the co-creator is being charged with second-degree murder.

It’s Not Just The Slides

And even if the attractions aren’t a problem, the water may be. Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs), as the CDC calls them, “are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water” in places like water parks. Chemicals in the water can also be a culprit. RWIs can cause many different kinds of infections, including “gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea. Diarrheal illnesses can be caused by germs such as Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E. coliO157:H7.” 

These are not rare at water parks. 

In a real-world example, in 2016, the Wet ‘n’ Wild Phoenix water park in Arizona experienced an outbreak of cryto, which ended up infecting 19 people, according to Arizona Family. One woman described her 15-year-old daughter as so sick that, “She didn’t even make it to the ER before we had to pull over a couple times to use restrooms. It was pretty bad. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t talk very well,” she said.

According to Water Quality and Health, the CDC says, “occurrences of diarrheal recreational water illnesses have steadily increased since the mid-1980s.” A study by the Wisconsin Department of Health of five indoor and five outdoor water parks showed that play areas were the most bacteria-heavy — 13 percent harbored E. Coli; total coliforms were 53 percent; enterrococci were found at 87 percent. Staphlyococci were found “in up to 80 percent of the specimens.” The padding used everywhere in water parks? Basically, totally gross — pools without it had lower bacterial levels. 

The department recommends showering with soap before getting in the pool, not bringing children with diarrhea to the water park (please), and never changing diapers on the pool deck. It may belie a total lack of faith in my fellow man, but, shockingly, I do not trust people to follow these recommendations.

I’m staying off the slides and out of the water this year. But if you are going to the waterpark this year, keep yourself clean, and avoid any waterslides that concern you.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on

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