Tragic incident highlights need for pool safety law

Consumer Reports News: July 11, 2007 06:32 PM

Earlier this month, at the Minneapolis Golf Club, a 6-year-old girl was seriously injured when the strong suction of an exposed pool drain sucked out part of her intestines. All the details of that incident aren't available, but we know that injuries and fatalities can be prevented through proper drain covers in swimming pools and spas. On existing pools, special safety drain covers can be installed; for new or renovated pools, there are safety vacuum release systems or dual drains.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the Minneapolis incident. Unfortunately, the issue is not new to the commission. In congressional testimony last year, the CPSC said that it knew of 74 cases of body entrapment, including 13 deaths, between 1990 and 2004. The deaths were caused after the body, or a limb, was held against a drain by the suction of the circulation pump. There have also been 43 incidents of hair entanglement in pools, spas and hot tubs between 1990 and 2004, with 12 drowning deaths when the hair becoming entangled in drain grates. 

The Minneapolis tragedy may be the proof Congress needs to enact a law requiring anti-entrapment drain covers on all pools and spas. Such a measure was passed by the Senate Commerce Committee last year but died at the end of the congressional term. This year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has already held a hearing on the bill and just after the Minneapolis incident Rep. Jim Ramstad sent a letter to his colleagues saying the horrible tragedy "shows the absolute pressing need to pass" the bill to prevent future swimming pool tragedies. And today, a bipartisan group of senators introduced similar legislation. That bill is named the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, after the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker. The young Baker died several years ago, at the age of seven, after becoming entrapped in a spa drain; it took several adults to help pry her free from the force of the drain; unfortunately, they were not in time to save her.

As Sen. Pryor said in introducing the bill: "Adult supervision is always a critical safety factor to prevent pool accidents. But when manufacturers put profit above safety, sometimes it's not enough. ... This legislation is a simple solution to prevent major heartbreak." 

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