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24 LA Lifeguards Went For A Swim And Got Bacterial Infections. They're Blaming The City

Los Angeles city lifeguards say they raised concerns Department of Recreation and Parks officials about the hazardous conditions in Hansen Dam Recreational Lake, but they were ordered to swim there anyway. Approximately 22 came out with rashes caused by a bacterial infection, according to their labor union. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)
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Los Angeles lifeguards and their labor union are accusing city officials of negligence, saying a rash decision caused two dozen lifeguards to develop a nasty bacterial infection.

The city workers say they were ordered into Hansen Dam Recreational Lake for training-- despite telling Department of Recreation and Parks officials that they were concerned the water was unsafe and should be tested before being deemed safe for swimming.

According to a grievance filed by the lifeguards' labor union, a veteran lifeguard told his supervisors last month that the water at the Lake View Terrace facility was "dangerous and unsafe," but his concerns were ignored and the lifeguards were told to report there for their open water skills testing anyway.

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Shortly after getting into the man-made lake for the April 27 test, 22 lifeguards "suffered respiratory problems and their bodies were covered in rash and body irritants" according to the grievance. The lifeguards sought medical treatment and were placed on leave, the filing states. The number of infections was later updated to 24 by union officials, who held a press conference at the lake Tuesday morning.

The lifeguards reportedly suffered from "swimmer's itch," which sounds gross, but the details are even grosser. The medical term for the condition is cercarial dermatitis, which is caused by a parasite typically introduced into bodies of water by infected snails. The microscopic freeloaders are most commonly found on birds, but are known to burrow into a swimmer's skin, causing an allergic reaction in the form of rashes.

"My body welted up with red bumps and blisters, which I still have not recovered from and I am currently taking medication for," Jasper Kim, the 13-year city lifeguard named in the grievance, said in the union release. "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."

A few signs are posted around the the Hansen Dam Recreational Lake notifying visitors of restrictions on recreational activities. City lifeguard Jasper Kim, shown, says the signs don't go far enough because they don't talk about the two dozen lifeguards who suffered bacterial infections after swimming there last month. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

City lifeguards, backed by the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, are now "demanding that the City immediately have the water tested at all open water and swimming pools in accordance with prescribed safety protocols," according to a press release.

Lifeguards are also calling for the city officials who ignored their concerns to be disciplined and for all affected employees to recoup any wages and benefits lost in their ordeal.

Hansen Dam Recreational Lake is apparently swimming with parasites ready to give you a rash. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

"For years, the Department of Recreation and Parks placed restrictions on entering the lake unless for emergencies but suspended their own rules on the weekend of April 27th," SEIU 721 spokeswoman Roxane Marquez said in a statement.

City parks department officials released a statement, saying the 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."

Additional tests at the lake have been requested, officials said.

Emily Elena Dugdale contributed to this report.

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Wednesday, 8:56 a.m.: This article was updated with a statement from L.A.'s Department of Recreation and Parks.

11:52 a.m.: This article was updated with new information on the number of infected lifeguards, bringing the total to 24.

This article was originally published at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday.

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