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New Pool Law Being Ignored

Jan 15, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP Last month, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a notice on a new pool law that became effective December 19, 2008.  But, the critical law, aimed at saving children’s lives, is being ignored.  

Last month’s release reminded public pool and spa owners and operators about the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, aimed at preventing drain entrapments of children.  The CPSC noted that failure to comply with the Congressionally-enacted law could result in closure.  Now, says CNN, some government agencies are not policing the law and children’s lives are at risk.

The CPSC says the law—which was enacted in 2007—requires installation of anti-entrapment drain covers and other systems meant to prevent the tragic and hidden hazards of drain entrapments and eviscerations that plague children in pools and spas.  Under the law, all public pools and spas must have ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007 compliant drain covers installed; a second anti-entrapment system must be installed when there is only one, single main drain.  Congress allowed all affected pool and spa operators one year to comply with this law; public pools and spas that operate year-round are expected to be in compliance by December 19, 2008.  CPSC staff has taken the position that seasonal public pools and spas, which are currently closed, must be in compliance with the law on the day that they reopen in 2009.

According to Alan Korn, public policy director of the nonprofit child safety group Safe Kids USA, the covers prevent children from becoming caught in the pool’s suction and suffering disembowelment and evisceration, said CNN.  Korn told CNN, the process is like "turning your insides basically into your outsides."  Other injuries that can occur in noncompliant pools and spas include paralysis, scarring, permanent welting, and drowning, said CNN.  Regardless, it seems many pool and spa operators remain out of compliance, placing untold numbers of children at risk.

The law was named after Virginia Graeme Baker, the seven-year-old granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.  The child died in a hot tub at a school party in 2002.  Her twin sister alerted their mother who told CNN, "The tub was just dark. I couldn't see anything.  Only bubbles."  When the child’s mother looked in the water she saw that her daughter’s eyes were shut, she was “essentially cemented” to the pool’s bottom, and her limbs were being torn asunder by the suction.  "I was thinking she was tied down or caught on something," Baker told CNN. "Honestly, I couldn't figure it out.  All that adrenaline was running through me, and I was just trying to get her out.  I couldn't understand why, despite all of my efforts, I couldn't pry her free. I couldn't get her off the drain," Baker said.  Apparently “hundreds of pounds of suction force” were at play, explained CNN, which reported that three adults were needed to free the child who was dead by the time she reached the hospital.

Despite this and other horrible stories that discuss similar, gruesome tragedies, including stories about children spending a lifetime on feeding tubes, many states are allowing pools to remain open and others have not begun inspecting pools and actively shutting down those in noncompliance.  Some health and safety officials said the law is not being followed because their agencies do not have authority to enforce it and others, such as Riverside, California’s public health department, say they are waiting for a similar law to be passed in the state legislature.

The Association of Pool and Spa Professional notes that the Act establishes a voluntary grant program for those states with laws that meet some of the Act’s certain minimum requirements.

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