Pool Drain Rescue Shows Danger Remains, Despite New Regulations
ABC News Investigation Last Summer Exposed Fatal Problems
By ASA ESLOCKER
August 24, 2009—
Live television pictures from a Key Biscayne, Florida condo this morning showed a child sucked into a pool drain while rescue workers fought with jackhammers and respirator equipment to save the girl's life a frightening reminder about the continued problem of pool drain safety around the country.
"My heart really sank," said Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz when she saw video broadcast this morning of rescue workers trying to free a three-year-old girl when her arm got trapped in a skimmer drain. "The number two killer of children under 14 in this country to accidental death is drowning in swimming pools."
The girl is in stable condition after she was airlifted to a local hospital.
An ABC News investigation last summer highlighted the risks of small, flat drain covers at public pools. Producers and interns from the ABC Investigative Unit and from affiliates in San Francisco, San Diego and Orlando showed improper drain covers and dangerous drains from hotels, apartments and municipal pools all over the country.
Wasserman-Schultz, a mother of three, was a key player in the 2007 passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which required updated domed or large, flat covers and better safety regulations for public pools and spas in the U.S.
According to Paul Pennington, a pool safety expert, the advantage of new domed-shaped drains or large flat drains is that it makes it much harder for a skimmer to create the dangerous vacuum effect. A domed drain cover is not only "the kind of drain cover that is required" by the new law, but Pennington said, "you should want to put it in."
Wasserman-Shultz said these new anti-suction drain types would have prevented this morning's incident in Key Biscayne. "The fact that this little girl got her arm stuck in the powerful suction of the skimmer is just another example of how powerful the suction is without safety equipment and these are pools that should be shut down," she said.
Pools at apartment complexes and condos, like the accident this morning, are considered public and are subject to the new law.
Experts and legislators alike show frustration and disappointment with the new law's enforcement around the nation and, for Wasserman-Schultz, this morning's accident in Key Biscayne exacerbates fears about the larger picture of the law's lack of compliance.
"My first thought was, 'Oh my God, I hope this pool was in compliance.' But my fear is that it wasn't and that this accident was entirely avoidable," she told ABC News.com.
Attempts to reach the Key Colony Condominiums about confirmation of its pool drain compliance were not immediately successful.
"There are hundreds of accidents every year where children drown in pools and states that are resisting enforcing the Virginia Graeme Baker Act are essentially putting the public at risk," Wasserman-Shultz said. "To turn the other cheek and ignore a federal law that's been on the books to require these pools to be compliant for over a year is unconscionable."
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