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A sweeping new law, which went into full effect December 19, 2008 after an entire year of transition time, is designed to prevent children from drowning due to drain suction trapping them underwater. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an average of 283 children under the age of five drown and an additional 2,700 have to go to the emergency room annually for submersion related injuries. The law, named the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Act, will force many pools and spas to close unless new anti-drowning drain covers are installed. It also prevents the sale, distribution and manufacture of drain systems that are not to standard. Pools that will open in the summer of 2009 are not required to comply until they allow people to swim.

The rules apply to publicly used pools and spas, including municipal pools used at hotels, apartment buildings and private clubs. While the legislation approving the new drain systems was passed a year ago and gave pool and spa operators a year to comply, many owners have complained of shortages in the availability of approved drain covers, budget restraints since it is estimated the updates cost between $1,000 and $15,000, an unavailability of contractors that are equipped to provide the needed services, and confusion about the technical requirements. For example, as recently as November, approved drain covers did not yet exist for field fabricated or larger drains like those in the market.

The federal government did not give the CPSC the $7 million it requested to enforce this law, so it is up to the states to do so themselves in the earlier stages. The CPSC will first focus on facilities that pose the greatest risk of drain entrapment to children, such as kiddie pools and spas; an attempt to crack down on all public and semi-public pools and spas would be a logistical nightmare. The issue came under heightened political pressure after former Secretary of State James Baker’s granddaughter was drowned after being sucked onto a powerful spa drain. A nonprofit group named the National Swimming Pool Foundation estimates eighty percent, or more than 300,000 of the pools in the United States, do not adhere to the new rules and may have to close.

It is about time this problem was addressed through legislation. These types of pool drains have injured and killed people for many years. Former Senator John Edwards (D. N.C.) settled a case against a drain manufacturer in 1996 as a result of a horrific accident where a 5 year old girl was disembowled by the drain. Although it is good to have passed this legislation, it took too long.

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