Minnesota Senate Approves Tougher Standards for Pools

April 25, 2008

Just ahead of swimming season, the Minnesota Senate on Wednesday, April 23rd, embraced new safety standards for more than 4,000 pools at health clubs, parks, apartment buildings and hotels.

It is a response to an ultimately fatal injury 6-year-old Abigail Taylor suffered last summer when she sat on a wading pool drain at the Minneapolis Golf Club in St. Louis Park. Its powerful suction ripped out part of her intestinal tract.

Scott Taylor, Abigail’s father, was well into his fight for tougher safety standards when his daughter died in March of complications stemming from the accident. He promised her he would strive to prevent another tragedy like hers.

“This is another step in the right direction,” he said.

There are a few more steps to go for it to become law.

The new Minnesota requirements would be layered on just-enacted federal rules ordering entrapment-proof drain covers for new public pools. Only single-family residential pools would be exempt.

Starting with shallow wading pools and building up to pools of all depths, the bill requires pool operators to certify they have unblockable outlets or redundant drains that would prevent the type of suction at issue in Abigail Taylor’s case. They would also have to do daily physical checks, not just visual examinations, to make sure outlet covers and drains are properly attached.

Sen. Geoff Michel, the bill’s sponsor, said operators are already required to regularly check chemical levels, so asking them to physically inspect the drain covers as often shouldn’t be burdensome.

Backers of the bill estimate it will cost $5,000 to retrofit pools with older drain systems that wouldn’t meet the new code. Others said the cost could be as high as $15,000. It’s not known how many pools will need new drains.

Senators deleted from the bill an exemption that would have allowed local governments to apply for more time to get their pools up to the new standard. Democratic Sen. Linda Berglin of Minneapolis, one of eight senators who favored the exemption, said some communities might not be able to afford immediate upgrades, causing them to close pools.

“You will have public pools that are empty this summer and then you will be hearing from people who are upset because a pool isn’t able to be used,” Berglin said. “Then you will have a backlash against this law.”

Before the Senate action, Scott Taylor said he opposed a relaxed standard or waivers.

“If they’re not safe, they’re not safe. In my opinion you don’t open them until they are safe,” he said.

Taylor and Michel wore pink rubber bracelets inscribed with an “Amazing Abigail” logo.

They said swift passage of the law was critical so the tougher standards are in place when pool inspections pick up in May.

Currently, the Minnesota Department of Health licenses about 1,000 public pools. Another 2,000 are monitored by local governments. The Health Department’s John Linc Stine said the new regulations would draw in another 1,000 to 1,500 pools.

Pools deemed out of compliance of the new rules would be ordered immediately closed, Linc Stine said.

Wednesday’s voice vote in the Senate will be followed by a recorded vote, possibly later this week. The House has approved a pool safety measure as part of a bigger budget bill, but it is expected to vote again on a standalone version.

Taylor said he won’t stop with the new federal and Minnesota requirements. He said he plans to turn his attention to looser laws in neighboring states and lifeguard training programs, he said.

“I’m going to put them on notice: They’ll be hearing from me,” he said.

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