COLORADO SPRINGS, CO -- Beginning Dec. 19, public pool operators must ensure that their pools comply with a federal act that requires these pools to be equipped with drain covers that are certified to comply with the new American Society of Mechanical Engineers/American National Standards Institute 2007 standard. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act applies to all public pools and spas, including those at health clubs, YMCAs, community parks, hotels, universities, schools, apartments and condominiums.

The United States has about 300,000 public pools and spas, according to the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF). The NSPF says that most of those pools are not in compliance and will have to close after Dec. 19 until they change their drains.

Dozens of organizations—including the NSPF, the National Recreation and Parks Association, and the YMCA of the USA—have communicated with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to request a 12- to 18-month delay in implementation. CPSC is the enforcing agency of the act and may impose up to $1.825 million in fines and seek imprisonment for violators.

A delay in implementation of the Pool & Spa Safety Act would allow activities that benefit people (swim lessons, aquatic therapy and rehabilitation, lifeguard training, physical exercise, and family-together activities) to continue while the local pool and spa facility works to reduce the risk of suction entrapment, the NSPF says.

However, other organizations, such as the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP), have not requested a delay.

“Members of the APSP have supported and worked hard to develop and implement the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. We believe it provides excellent, effective guidance for consumers in pool and spa safety regulation to prevent injury and save lives,” says Carvin DiGiovanni, senior director, technical and standards at APSP.

The Pool and Spa Safety Act was enacted by Congress and signed by President Bush on Dec. 19, 2007. It is designed to prevent the hazard of drain entrapments and eviscerations in pools and spas. Congress gave all affected pool and spa operators one year to comply with this law. The Pool & Spa Safety Act was named in honor of the granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. His granddaughter died in 2002 when she was entrapped on a drain in a private in-ground spa.

“Our mission at the CPSC is to keep American families safe,” Nancy Nord, CPSC acting chairperson, said in a release from the organization. “CPSC will enforce the requirements of this pool and spa safety law with a focus on where the greatest risk of drain entrapment to children exists, such as wading pools, pools designed specifically for toddlers and young children, and in-ground spas, particularly where these types of pools and spas have flat drain grates and single main drain systems.”

Nord added: “State health and enforcement agencies share the responsibility to ensure this law is properly enforced. I recommend these agencies take the same approach as CPSC concerning enforcement priorities.”

The CPSC says it encourages pool and spa operators to continue working as diligently as possible to come into compliance, as the agency and state attorneys general are empowered to close any pool or spa that fails to meet the act’s requirements.

Suction entrapment claims about one to two victims per year, according to historic data from the CPSC. Drowning claimed the lives of 761 children aged 14 and under in 2004.

Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., and CEO of NSPF, says that swimming pool operators support preventing entrapment, but forcing public pools and spas to close because they are not in compliance with the act has unexpected and undesirable consequences.

“Despite good faith efforts, organizations nationwide will not comply with this law by the deadline for reasons that are outside of their control,” Lachocki says.

Lachocki adds that the act budgets $5 million per year for an educational program requiring CPSC to establish and carry out education to the public pool service companies, pool facility owners, operators and others, but no such programs exist. As a result, facilities are either unaware or confused about the requirements of the act.

Lachocki says that some compliant covers are only now becoming available, and that large and uniquely shaped (unblockable) compliant drain covers will not be available by the deadline. The act requires existing large, unblockable drains to be replaced, with no evidence that the change will reduce the risk of entrapment, Lachocki says. In addition to the drain cover, the area below the cover (the sump) must sometimes be excavated and replaced in order to be compliant. Confusion over this exists and can increase compliance costs, which can reach $200,000 per pool, he adds.

In addition, Lachocki says that there are conflicts between engineering requirements in the act and local laws already in place to prevent entrapment.

State laws require local health departments to review and approve changes to pools before work begins. The Pool & Spa Safety Act is an unfunded mandate for health departments that do not have the capacity to review changes on all public pools in their jurisdiction prior to the deadline, says Lachocki, who adds that operators must choose to either break a state law by making changes before the deadline or to break a federal law by seeking state approval and missing the federal deadline.

For a list of manufacturers who make compliant drain covers, go to: http://www.cpsc.gov/businfo/draincman.html