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New Report Highlights Children Drowning Deaths

May 22, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) just released a report about child drowning deaths and injuries in pools and spas in anticipation of this Memorial Day weekend as pools open nationwide.

According to agency data, nearly 300 children under the age of five drown in pools and spas annually; about 3,000 suffer pool- or spa-related injuries requiring hospital emergency room care. Two-thirds of all pool- and spa-related deaths and injuries involve children between one and two years of age, with 80 percent of all drowning deaths occurring in residential settings. Between 1999 and 2008, there were 83 reports of pool and spa entrapments, including 11 deaths and 69 injuries. Since 1999, 14 percent of the reported pool and spa suction/entrapment incidents were fatal.  Children become caught in a pool’s suction and suffer disembowelment, evisceration, paralysis, scarring, permanent welting, and drowning.

Yesterday, acting CPSC Chairman Chairman Nancy Nord, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Safe Kids USA, and Scott Taylor (father of Abigail Taylor, who suffered fatal injuries from an evisceration incident in a wading pool), spoke on Capitol Hill to encourage parents, caregivers, and pool owners to make safety a top priority as the summer swim season officially opens.

"Preventing child drownings is a key part of CPSC's mission. I call upon all parents, caregivers and pool and spa operators to ensure that fencing and other layers of protection are in place; that there is constant supervision of children in and around the water; and that new, safer drain covers that prevent entrapment incidents are installed," said Acting Chairman Nord. "I want to thank the Congress for providing CPSC with funds this year to implement the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. This is an important child safety law and CPSC will use the new funds to increase compliance with the law, educate on pool and spa safety measures, implement the state grant program, partner with state and local government on enforcement and make pools and spas even safer," added Nord.

The critical law, aimed at saving children’s lives, has largely been ignored, despite that failure to comply could result in facility closure. The law requires installation of anti-entrapment drain covers and other systems meant to prevent the tragic and hidden hazards that plague children in pools and spas.  Under the law, all public pools and spas must have compliant drain covers installed; a second anti-entrapment system must be installed when there is only one, single main drain. Seasonal public pools and spas must be in compliance with the law on the day that they reopen.

The CPSC is focusing on public wading pools, kiddie pools, and in-ground spas and has called upon state departments of health for enforcement. CPSC also launched a new Web site——that provides information about the P&SS Act and drowning.

To reduce accident risks, pool owners should adopt several layers of protection including physical barriers, such as a fence completely surrounding the pool with self-closing, self-latching gates to prevent unsupervised access by young children. If the house forms a side of the barrier, use alarms on doors leading to the pool area and/or a power safety cover over the pool. In addition, reports of children exiting the house via a pet door have been on the rise.

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. Despite this and other horrible stories that discuss similar, gruesome tragedies, including stories about children spending a lifetime on feeding tubes, many states allow noncompliant pools to remain open.

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