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Why Are Unprotected Pool Drains Still Threatening Our Children?

Swimming pools across the country continue to house a silent killer, illegal pool drains. Since 1990, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has reported 83 entrapment incidents. The Virginia Graham Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act took effect December 19, 2007. The law requires all public pools and spas, including those in hotels, apartments, and residential communities, to be fitted with domed drain covers. Older drains generate a strong suction that can result in body entrapment and leads to scarring, limb damage, paralysis, or even worse, death. It is now 2009 and despite these risks many pools that are subject to the law still don’t comply. You can watch one of many videos about this at CNN.

The excuses for non-compliance are wide ranging but none of them outweigh the dangers. Two public pools in the Tampa, Florida area have closed indefinitely because they are unable to pay for the changes that would be required to accommodate the new drains. Others pass the buck, blaming manufacturers because the models they requested are on back order.

So, how are these pools getting through the drain when it comes to abiding the law? There are several factors that contribute to this problem:

1-Enforcement Problems: Each state enforces the federal law differently. While the Consumer Product and Safety Commission is the agency that oversees the law, it is very small and thus relies on the state to carry out enforcement. Some state public health and safety departments are more lenient than others. For example, in Florida there are still approximately 7,000 public pools that don’t comply with the law. A National Pool Safety Council spokesperson stated that his understanding is that Florida officials are not even enforcing the federal law. For a state that has more pools than most, this is a scary realization. State health department inspectors usually only enforce state code and in Florida, they have never shut down a pool due to a federal violation.

2-Lack of Funding: State health departments criticize the creators of the law b/c there is practically no federal enforcement. Also, in light of recent state budget cuts and salary reductions, there is not much leverage for requiring employees to enforce more and more federal regulations.

3-No Penalty: The penalty for failing to comply with the law has yet to be determined. Perhaps this is why many state departments are not motivated to enforce the law. Without punishment, penalties, or consequences there will be no reason for compliance aside from morality.

How to Protect Your Kids:

  • Don’t swim at pools that fail to meet the federal requirements.
  • Before becoming a member of a pool, find out if the drain(s) has been changed and whether safety measures for the new drain have been met
  • Educate yourself as to whether the drain on your own home pool or hot tub is safe. It is important to change drain covers every few years. If your kids swim at a friend’s house, ask them about their drain. See examples of safe and unsafe drain covers.
  • PTO/PTA meetings are a great way to reach many families and to inform other parents about potential dangers lurking in their. Bring an example of the type drain pools and spas should have.

You can learn more about the Federal Pool and Spa Safety Act here.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Michael T. Gibson
    Michael T. Gibson

    I will never forget around 15 years ago I came across a news reporting on a child's intestines being sucked out by a drain.

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