Toronto-area spa vows to gain back public trust after customers report getting sick after visiting

A view of the exterior of Thermea Spa Village. Groupe Nordik, the company that runs the spa, says it is 'committed to rebuilding trust with the public' after multiple customers reported getting sick after using one of their pools. (Thermëa Spa Village website - image credit)
A view of the exterior of Thermea Spa Village. Groupe Nordik, the company that runs the spa, says it is 'committed to rebuilding trust with the public' after multiple customers reported getting sick after using one of their pools. (Thermëa Spa Village website - image credit)

A company that runs a new spa in Whitby, Ont. says it is introducing new safety protocols that "exceed anything required" by health organizations in Ontario weeks after it closed its pools following multiple reports of customers getting sick.

Groupe Nordik, which runs the Thermëa Spa Village, says it's been leading a "comprehensive audit" since Oct. 14 — the same day the Durham Region Health Department (DRHD) informed the spa it found pseudomonas and staphylococcus (staph) bacteria in one of its pools. The spa officially opened on Oct. 5.

"In our 20 years of operation, we have never had an incident like this in any of our pools, and it is our intention to never have an incident like this again," an audit report released Wednesday reads.

"As a wellness creator, the health and safety of our guests is our most important priority. It is our commitment to make this right and ensure the public can trust us again."

Customers suffered 'very serious injuries'

As of Thursday, 45 customers are hoping to seek damages from the spa, up from the 28 reported last week, says Justin Linden, the lawyer representing the group.

He continues to receive calls from clients reporting "very serious injuries," he says.

"We had a chance to review an audit by the spa, and by their own audit, practically everything that could've gone wrong, went wrong," said Linden.

He noting it was "particularly concerning" that the spa continued to operate for a number of days and people were not warned after it was notified by DRHD.

"The duty of the spa was to make sure it was operating safely, and the audit reveals that it wasn't. And as a result of that, many people got very, very sick."

People participating in the legal process have reported symptoms including skin outbreaks, ear infections and hearing loss.

What the audit revealed

Three factors contributed to bacteria being found in one of its pools, according to an audit conducted by Groupe Nordik, its pool builder and designer, consultants and a microbial physiologist.

The company said prior to opening, all nine of its pools were prepared for inspection based on provincial laws and inspections by the Durham Public Health Department. While it closed all pools "out of an abundance of caution" after customers reported getting sick, it says only one pool, the Källa pool, was found to have the bacteria.

First, a valve on the Källa pool's bromine erosion system failed "sometime after launch," the report says. The system serves as the pool's primary disinfection system.

While the company says it hasn't been able to determine the cause of the valve failure as of Wednesday, it says it replaced the valve and installed a backup system.

The audit also found the pool's ultraviolet disinfectant system, which functioned as a secondary safety measure, malfunctioned. The company has since replaced the system's flow switch, the report states.

Lastly, the audit also found that the "highly" concentrated solution of salt in the pool resulted in bromine not completely dissolving in the water, and ultimately not acting as a "complete chemical barrier to the bacteria, as we had been advised it would."

The company says it has since converted the sanitizing system for the affected pool to chlorine and has drained, sanitized, and re-assembled the pool and all "related systems."

Regaining the public's trust

In addition to this, Groupe Nordik says it will introduce new safety protocols that exceed requirements, including two chlorine sanitizing systems, doubling the salt content in the Källa pool and installing an alarm on the ultraviolet disinfection system.

It also says it will have an incubator on site to perform regular bacterial tests.

"From our understanding, we will be the only recreational swimming pool facility in Canada with this capability on site and one of a select few in North America," reads the report.

Groupe Nordik says it is posting the results of the audit to be transparent, and updates will follow as new information emerges.

Updates on the improvements and the re-opening of the Källa pool will come over the coming weeks and months, the company says.

"We conclude with 100 per cent certainty that we will, in time, be able to reopen the Källa pool and offer a safe experience for all of our guests."