Some historians claim that the public baths contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Others say that western civilization has been declining ever since the Jacuzzi hit Beverly Hills.
But in Montgomery County, where the great seal reads "Gardez bien" (Guard Well), cleanliness is next to guardliness.
"Under the existing definition of a public swimming pool," according to Linda Hart, one of the county attorneys working to dejargonize county regulations, "a Jacuzzi or spa would be required to have a lifeguard."
So might a hot tub parlor, a racquet club whirlpool or a sensory deprivation tank. Traditional Japanese baths might be included, too, although Turkish baths or other dry steam rooms aren't covered by the regulations.
Health department officials have been trying for years to get around the 1971 wording by selective enforcement. But this fall the health department turned to county attorneys for a more specific law, and the question became part of an effort to put the county's laws into English.
The problem is a sweeping definition of a public swimming pool as "any artificial structure, basin, chamber or tank, either above or below ground, which is used or intended to be used for the primary purpose of swimming, diving, wading or recreational bathing."
Private pools used by the owner, the owner's family and nonpaying guests are excepted. So the consultants to County Council member David Scull, who have been holding their meetings in his Jacuzzi, are clean.
A proposed legislative rewrite, Hart said, would take care of units under the supervision of physicians or therapists and create a new category of spas and "spa guards:" persons trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation rather than in all lifesaving, for smaller setups. The proposal by the county attorneys will be turned over to the County Council later for approval.
"If you went by the letter of the law now, it would be ridiculous," said one sports club manager, who closed his locker room whirlpools until the health department temporarily waived the requirement.
"You're supposed to have a 12-foot pole so that if someone gets in trouble, you can haul them out," he explained. "But my whirlpool is 6 by 10 [feet], and the walls are about 6 inches beyond that. . . . So we keep it in the maintenance room."