I really thought tremendous progress had been made in 2007 when Congress passed legislation designed to make swimming pools safer. Now four members of Congress have sent letters of protest to the federal commissioners who they say weakened that safety law which was meant to prevent deaths from pool-drain suction. The commissioners were asked in the letters to reverse their decision. The letters, which were identical, stated in part:
We are sorely disappointed to learn that [the Consumer Product Safety Commission] has chosen to interpret the law in the most egregious and narrow way possible, eliminating the requirement for pools and spas to be equipped with back-up systems. The swimming season is upon us. We are writing to you to urge you in the strongest possible way to reverse these rulings.
The letters, signed by Democratic Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and James Himes and John Larson of Connecticut, and Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia, are the latest development in a pool-season push to get the CPSC to enforce what safety advocates consider to be the original intent of a law passed in 2007 to prevent deaths from drain suction. In March, the CPSC voted to interpret the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, named for a seven-year-old who died in a pool-drain incident in 2002, to no longer require back-up anti-entrapment systems in the drains of as many as 150,000 public and hotel pools and hot tubs. That action is indefensible and should be reversed.
The decision outraged pool-safety advocates and the parents of children killed by pool-drain suction. After Nancy Baker, mother of Virginia Graeme Baker, read comments from the commissioners who voted to reinterpret the law, she had this to say:
They say the problem [of pool-drain suction] is small and rare. It’s always been rare to die this way. But the bigger point is that it’s preventable and it’s a violent and horrible way for a small child to die. How many kids have to die or be maimed in that way for the CPSC?
Members of Congress aren’t the only ones putting pressure on the CPSC. On June 9th, Mrs. Baker signed a letter from the group Safe Kids to Robert Adler, one of the three commissioners who voted to interpret the law, urging him to change his vote. Paul Pennington of the Pool Safety Council has also launched an on-line petition that targets Commissioner Adler. The letters signed by the four members of Congress went to Adler and Anne Northup and Nancy Nord, the two other commissioners who voted to reinterpret the Act.
The vacuum effect in pool drains is powerful enough to hold swimmers, especially children, to the bottom of a pool. Contact between human skin and a flat pool drain can create suction equal to hundreds of pounds of pressure. In one horrific instance, four adult men were unable to pull a young girl from the grasp of a deadly drain. Swimmers can die from drowning or evisceration. From 1999 to 2008, according to CPSC data, there were 83 reports of suction entrapment, including 11 deaths and 69 injuries. Experts say the number of deaths and injuries may be much higher, however, because police and medical records don’t always list specific causes for drowning.
In December 2007, in a rare bipartisan vote, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool And Spa Safety Act to provide basic drain safety standards and layers of backup protection from dangerous drain suction for the nation’s public and hotel pools and hot tubs. The law mandates that drains in about 300,000 of the nation’s public and hotel pools and hot tubs be covered with larger, rounded covers that do not create suction, and that there be a back-up mechanical system installed in drains to prevent suction in those pools that have a single main drain. As many as half of the pools and hot tubs covered by the Pool Safety Act have single main drains.
New CPSC chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum asked for a review of the Pool Safety Act shortly after taking the helm of the commission last year. She called on representatives of the pool industry and pool safety advocates to make presentations to the commission. On behalf of the pool industry, pool equipment manufacturer Leif Zars argued that redesigned drain covers were enough to prevent pool suction accidents. When I learned that a majority of the CPSC commissioners agreed with the pool industry’s position I was shocked. Now public and hotel pools won’t have to install a secondary anti-entrapment system in order to be in compliance with the Pool Safety Act’s clear wording of “unblockable drain.” Pool safety advocates argue that larger, rounded drain covers are not enough and I agree with them. Rep. Wasserman Schultz, who introduced and pushed for the passage of the Pool Safety Act, had this to say:
This ruling leaves children’s lives only as safe as the first layer of protection, which leaves them vulnerable to human error and mechanical failure, with no further layer of protection.
The CPSC’s decision even went against the position of Chairman Tenenbaum, who stated:
In my role as Chairman I am not willing to gamble the safety of our children in the hope that drain covers throughout the nation that are commonly removed for maintenance always will be reinstalled correctly or that a missing or broken drain cover will be immediately noticed by an observant pool operator who will then shut down the pool before any children are at risk.
Hopefully, the Commission will reverse what I consider to be a very bad decision and will follow the law as Congress intended. The public interest – and safety concerns – in combination, should cause the commissioners who weakened the intent of the Act to change their votes. Since the summer months are here, time is of the essence.
Source: ABC News
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