99% of Indiana Pools Fail to Install Required Safe Drains

March 16, 2009

Indiana health officials say most of Monroe County’s swimming pools, spas and whirlpools don’t comply with a new federal law requiring them to be fitted with special drain covers to prevent children from drowning or sustaining gruesome injuries.

Of the 116 pools, spas and baby pools the Monroe County Health Department regularly inspects, fewer than 1 percent are in compliance with the new law, said Simeon Baker, the department’s environmental health specialist.

The federal law that took effect Dec. 19 requires all public pools, spas and whirlpools to have anti-entrapment covers over their main drains.

The law, called the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, is named after former Secretary of State James Baker’s granddaughter, who drowned in 2002 when the suction from a spa drain trapped her underwater.

The legislation is designed to prevent injury or death caused when people become entrapped by the suction from pool or spa drains. Victims can be disemboweled by the powerful suction, or drown if their buttocks, hair, jewelry or limbs become trapped by the drain’s suction.

Most of the victims were between 5 and 9 years old.

Between 1999 and 2007 in the U.S., there were 9 deaths and 53 injuries suffered in public and residential pools and spas by drain suction entrapment, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Rob Gilchrist, aquatics coordinator with the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, said he thinks the law will save lives, but he’s frustrated by the short amount of time given for pools, spas and whirlpools to comply.

“The law passed just a year ago and is placing a huge strain on the industry,” he told The Herald-Times. “There are not a lot of companies making these drain covers but there are a lot of people wanting them.”

Gilchrist said it’s proved particularly difficult for him to try to get the large drain covers needed to fit over the main drains at the parks department’s two pools.

“At this time no manufacturer makes the size of drain cover we need, so we had to make a special order,” he said.

Gilchrist said he hopes the covers will arrive in time for the scheduled May 23 opening of the Bryan Park and Mills pools. If not, he isn’t sure if the pools would open as scheduled.

The Dec. 19, 2008, deadline does not apply to all pools and spas. Those that were closed on that date are not required to comply with the new law until they reopen to the public.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the federal agency “is encouraging all pool owners and operators who have not come into compliance with the law to do so as quickly as possible.” Wolfson said all state and local officials, as well as pool operators, need to be aware that the law has been in effect since Dec. 19.

In the Bloomington area, a few hotel pools have installed the required equipment. The Monroe County YMCA will do so in its two pools and two hot tubs this month at a cost of $16,000.

“We couldn’t get the parts by Dec. 19 because the drain cover manufacturers couldn’t keep up with the demand,” Sara Herold, YMCA spokeswoman.

Bill Ramos, director of Indiana University’s Aquatic Institute, said none of IU’s pools are currently in compliance. He said IU would soon hire a company to do a complete assessment of IU’s pool and hot tub drains.

Once that’s completed, he will order the necessary equipment needed to make the pools and hot tubs compliant.


Information from: The Herald-Times,

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