Pool-safety advocates decry loss of drain backup rule

Posted on Thursday, August 01, 2013

By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY

Congressional backers of a law designed to prevent deaths and injuries from pool and hot tub drains say the Consumer Product Safety Commission watered down the measure by siding with the pool industry.
Members of Congress and the parents of victims are hoping to persuade CPSC to reverse its position as public pools across the country open to throngs this holiday weekend.

The suctioning force of pool and hot tub drains can be so strong, it can trap body parts or hair and hold people underwater. CPSC says there have been 73 deaths and 262 entrapments since 1980, but the agency has acknowledged the incidents are underreported. Three-quarters of the deaths and injuries since 1999 were to those younger than 15.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, passed in 2007, required public pools and hot tubs to have unblockable drain covers and backup systems that shut off the suction forces if drains are obstructed. The law was named for former secretary of State James Baker's granddaughter, who died after she was held underwater by a hot tub drain.

CPSC interpreted the law in the "most egregious and narrow way possible" by eliminating the requirement for backup systems, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and co-sponsors of the law said in a letter to CPSC Commissioner Robert Adler last month. Adler, a Democrat appointed by President Obama, sided with the commission's two Republican members to pass the pool-industry-backed measure.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., told CPSC in a letter that the vote violated "both the spirit and the letter of the act."

The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals called the March vote "a significant victory for safety and the pool and spa industry" and said it was "another endorsement" of the group's safety standards. Spokeswoman Kirstin Pires says backup systems could create a dangerous false sense of security.

Paul Pennington, chairman of the Pool Safety Council, which includes pool-safety engineers and victims' parents, says nearly all of the entrapment deaths have involved missing drain covers, which he says underscores the need for backup systems.

Katey Taylor, whose 6-year-old daughter died of injuries from a drain entrapment in 2007, said the CPSC vote "took us back three years."

Safe Kids Worldwide public-policy expert Tanya Chin Ross says drain-entrapment deaths are "particularly horrific" because parents are typically "holding the child and trying to save the child's life" when they die.

CPSC, which kicked off a pool-safety campaign Thursday, emphasized that the issues go beyond drains: At least 70 people drowned in pools since Memorial Day; 80 more almost drowned. "There were thankfully zero drain entrapment deaths in 2009," says CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. "Our campaign is aimed at reducing child drownings and keeping entrapment deaths to zero again this year."