A Los Angeles City Council member called Wednesday for better testing of the water quality at the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center, along with a plan to address water quality issues at the San Fernando Valley facility, after more than 20 lifeguards developed an itchy rash caused by an allergic reaction to parasites that burrow into the skin.

According to Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, the lifeguards were stricken with cercarial dermatitis, commonly known as “swimmer’s itch,” which is caused by parasites from infected birds, mammals and snails living in freshwater lakes and ponds.

Some of the lifeguards held a news conference Tuesday, and their union filed a grievance with the city on behalf of the lifeguards. The grievance lodged by Service Employees International Union Local 721 says one of the lifeguards advised supervisors at the Recreation and Parks Department that the water in the Hansen Dam was dangerous and unsafe for the employees and the public due to the lack of adequate and regular testing of harmful parasites.

“Despite us lifeguards raising serious concerns about the water quality at the Hansen Dam Recreational Lake, we were simply ignored and told it was `safe’ to go in during a mandatory open water skills testing on April 27. Lo and behold, 20 of us were immediately stricken with a nasty case of body rashes and had to seek immediate medical attention,” said Jasper Kim, a 13-year veteran based out of the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center who said he has suffered severe rashes.

He added, “My body welted up with red bumps and blisters, which I still have not recovered from and I am currently taking medication for. Despite this troubling medical condition, I was told I could not use my sick days, and simply had to work in another part of the city as I recovered from the infection, or simply take a vacation.”

Rodriguez’s motion would direct the Department of Recreation and Parks and the Bureau of Sanitation to report to the City Council on their planned efforts to address the water quality concerns at the Hansen Dam Aquatic Center, including the type of testing that can be conducted to sooner identify the presence of the swimmer’s itch parasite.

The motion also seeks information on the exact type of testing that was done in Hansen Dam prior to the April 27 swim recertification, and the results of the testing.

The Recreation and Parks Department said it scheduled the swimming tests after receiving confirmed water test results from the Los Angeles Sanitation Environmental Monitoring Division on April 24 that the water was safe for swimming.

“Our department seeks the highest quality conditions to ensure the public’s safety and will continue to work with the affected employees to ensure they receive any care or work assistance,” the Department of Recreation and Parks said in a statement. “The Citywide Aquatics Division tests is also requesting additional testing from the Los Angeles Sanitation Environmental Monitoring Division.”

The department also said that it has “suspended all recreational water activities, with the exception of fishing, at the Hansen Dam Recreation Lake until such time proper notifications and education and prevention is made to the public who wish to utilize the HD Recreation Lake for recreational water activities such as swimming, boating, paddling, etc.”

The lake is regularly closed to the public for swimming from October through May.

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