By Leisa Zigman I-Team Reporter
St. Louis (KSDK) - An I-Team investigation found potentially dangerous bacteria crawling in popular city fountains where small children swim every day.
The fountains aren't meant for swimming but in this excessive heat, the cool water is more than just a little tempting.
We recently collected water samples from four popular locations: City Garden, Tower Grove Park, Word's Fair Pavilion at Forest park, and Splash Pad in O'Fallon, Illinois.
St. Louis Testing, an EPA-certified lab tested for coliform bacteria and E. coli.
Mike Sinn, the lab manager said E. coli were not present in any sample. However the samples from City Garden, Tower Grove Park, and Splash Pad, all tested positive for coliform bacteria. Only the pond at Forest Park came back clean.
"The presence of any coliform bacteria can suggest a possible health hazard, especially for the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems," said Sinn.
He added the bacteria could cause digestive illness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches.
Mary Jeanne Hutchinson is the Director of Parks and Recreation for the city of O'Fallon, Illinois. Just hours after we shared our results, Splash Pad was shut down for routine maintenance.
"We just wanted to make sure the PH was at the correct level so we shut it down for that until we had that fixed," said Hutchinson.
Beneath Splash Pad there is a master control room where computers and satellite technology closely monitor chlorine levels. The water is tested three times a day. But experts say the unprecedented heat wave sucks out the chlorine almost as fast as it's added.
"When you have a lot of users, a lot of people out, a lot of sunshine, it's a constant battle. But we try to see when the levels are to low and we shut it down and super chlorinate it and get everything up to speed," said Hutchinson.
An independent company monitors the water safety at Tower Grove Park, and the park's director said as a result of our findings, more aggressive testing and treatment will begin immediately.
Pam Walker is the Health Director for the City of St. Louis.
"It's not a public health concern to me unless we see E-Coli, which is a life threatening condition and even then, you have to drink a lot of water for the water to even have an impact," said Pam Walker, Health Director for the City of St. Louis.
Still, Walker said she would rather see children swimming in the free city pools.
"Going into a fountain that is not designed to be waded in is probably not a good parental choice," said Walker.
On the day we tested you could smell the chlorine at all of the locations well before you came near the water. But our findings showed there just wasn't enough to kill all the potentially harmful bacteria.
Some city leaders promised to do better.
"Hopefully, it's just a fluke. But you know it keeps us on our toes which is what we are supposed to do," said Hutchinson.
Parents and kids are counting on it.
The investigation started after a group of NewsChannel 5 producers wondered if the extreme heat was having an adverse effect on the water. Our testing proved the levels of chlorine need to be closely monitored especially with temperatures maintaining triple digits.
If you have a story you think should be investigated or if you want to blow the whistle on a government, business, or non-profit, contact email@example.com or @leisazigman on Twitter, or 314-444-5295. You can remain anonymous.