The Today Show (7/6) informed people all over the country about many public pools that are not abiding by federal law and replacing dangerous pool drains. The old pool drains are unsafe because they can pack 800 pounds of suction force and trap young children causing serious internal injuries and even death. A test run by the Today Show crew demonstrated that three adult men could not free a rubber dummy that had been sucked into a pool drain.
Innumerable children have been severely injured or killed as a result of these dangerous pool drains. One six year old girl died after a pool drain sucked out her intestines. Seven year old, Graeme Baker, granddaughter of former Secretary of State, James Baker, was killed when a pool drain trapped her underwater causing her drown. After years of lobbying by the Baker family, the federal government passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool Safety Act last year, which required all public pools to replace the old drains with new, safer drains by the end of 2008. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is the agency behind the act.
Unfortunately, half of the pools inspected by the Today Show crew were not in compliance with the federal law. Local agencies have found similarly disappointing figures. In both Denver and Indianapolis, half of the public pools in operation still use dangerous drains. In some counties in Florida, 70% of pools have not replaced their drains. The most egregious example is Los Angeles County, where 90% of pools are still operating without safe drains.
Issues with enforcement are also paramount. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it does not have the resources to conduct nation wide pool inspections, so it is up to the local agencies to monitor the public pools in their area. On the other hand, local agencies say they do not have authority to enforce the federal law. This leaves many pools operating as a constant safety hazards to users. The discrepancy between the federal and local enforcement of the pool safety act should be an immediate priority, but in the mean time, safety experts are encouraging parents to check with pool managers before letting their children in public pools.
Furthermore, private pool owners are not required to replace the drains, but should be strongly encouraged to do so. Replacing the drain should only cost a few hundred dollars – a small price to pay considering the potentially serious injuries that could occur in the absence of replacement. Safety experts are also urging parents to teach their children the dangers of pool drains and instructing them not to play in the proximity of a drain.
As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, I am disappointed with the careless enforcement of the federal law requiring all public pools to switch to safer drains. I advise everyone to take pool safety into their own hands and use precaution when swimming, and further strongly encourage parents to teach their children about the perils of pool drains.