Last March, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to interpret the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, named for a 7-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. Now the CPSC has announced that the primary anti-entrapment systems on these same pools may have been improperly tested and unsafe.

The CPSC has announced it is investigating the safety of pool and spa drain covers and the adequacy of the testing procedures that determine the flow rating of the covers (how many gallons of water per minute they admit). Three laboratories that test pool and spa drain covers have been subpoenaed by the CPSC as the agency seeks information about testing protocols, they types of drain covers tested, and the results of their past testing.

So far, the investigation has revealed that some of the labs likely used improper testing protocols. Drain covers tested by these labs may not be in compliance with federal safety standards established under the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. Pool and spa drains that use covers certified with inaccurate flow ratings can fail to prevent drain entrapment.

According to the CPSC, from 1999 to 2009, there were 94 reports of pool and spa entrapment. These included 12 fatalities, 79 injuries, and three no-injury incidents related to swimming pools, spas, and whirlpool tubs. Safety experts believe that the number of children injured by drain entrapment incidents is likely to be much higher than the number reported.

The CPSC plans to conduct a public meeting on April 5, 2011, to solicit answers from testing laboratories, drain cover manufacturers, and other industry representatives regarding how the testing was conducted, the potential impact on consumer safety, and what changes are being made to the testing procedures. The agency says its goal is to provide the public with important safety information about drain covers by this coming Memorial Day weekend.

The pool and spa industry has vigorously lobbied against any further safety enhancements, saying that fatal drain entrapment incidents are very rare.

But Nancy Baker, the mother of Virginia Graeme Baker, said “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?”

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