Health investigators say filtration issue led to 13 falling ill at Palm Desert hotel pool

PALM DESERT – County health officials today were investigating how a seemingly routine filtration cleaning process at a Palm Desert hotel swimming pool apparently led 13 people to fall ill, including nine children who were transported for hospital treatment.

County fire personnel were sent around 3 p.m. Monday to the Marriott Shadow Ridge Resort on a report of a “possible chemical vapor” near the lower south swimming pool, triggering respiratory problems among people in the pool area, according to fire department spokeswoman April Newman.

Of the nine children taken to a hospital, three were assessed to be in serious condition, three in moderate condition and three were experiencing minor symptoms, Newman said.

Dottie Merki, program chief for the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, said the vapor had completely dissipated by the time health investigators arrived on scene.

“It’s kind of a mystery,” Merki told City News Service on Tuesday.

Merki said a possible pool equipment malfunction was believed to have allowed air bubbles to work their way through the filtration system, creating the vapor.

The hotel cleaned its filter by “backwashing” or flowing water through the system to rinse organic material and other unwanted substances out of the system, but that process should not lead to air bubbles forming, Merki said.

A third party pool contractor has been requested to inspect the system, and the hotel was ordered to submit a report to the health department by Friday.

Merki said her department was also informed by Marriott Shadow Ridge that its policy on pool cleaning has changed following the incident, to instead only allow backwashing of the filtration system when no one is present at the swimming pools.

Though what the air bubbles may have contained remains uncertain, no hazardous substances were subsequently found in testing of the water or air so the resort’s pools will remain open, Merki said.

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