WASHINGTON, DC -- Complying with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act that went into effect Dec. 19 has proven difficult for some pool operators. Hold-ups include reconciling state and federal pool safety laws and the unavailability of needed manufacturer parts to make pools compliant.

“I wouldn’t say there was nationwide uniformity at this point,” says Kathleen Reilly, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). “It’s amazing. If you call people in different parts of the country, you get different responses. Some people say it’s no big deal, and some are having problems complying.”

The federal act requires pools to be equipped with drain covers that are certified to comply with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers/American National Standards Institute 2007 standard. To be compliant, a pool’s drain must have been inspected by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, Underwriters Laboratories or the National Sanitation Foundation, according to the CPSC.

The act applies to all public pools and spas, including those at health clubs, YMCAs, community parks, hotels, universities, schools, apartments and condominiums.

Owners of YMCA facilities nationwide are experiencing difficulties complying with the act because of a lack of availability of compliant drain covers and contractors to install them.

“Many YMCAs are already in compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act, and those that are not are working diligently to come into compliance,” says Mamie Moore, national spokesperson for the YMCA. “Unfortunately, like many other public pools across the country, YMCAs are running into challenges due to the unavailability of approved drain covers from manufacturers and a shortage of contractors who are experienced and equipped to install pool drains. Of course, safety is our No. 1 priority, as it has been for generations.”

Clemente Rivera, regional pool manager for New York Sports Clubs, is facing similar challenges in making his company’s pools compliant across four states. He says pool drain standards in New York state are more stringent than other states in his region, so the new main drain covers must comply with both state and federal guidelines.

“It’s a mess, and in my case, I have four states to deal with,” Rivera says. “We still have six swimming pools that we haven’t been able to put main drains on because they need custom anti-entrapment devices. The manufacturer says we’ll have them by March.”

Rivera says that as long as he is able to show evidence from the manufacturer that the new covers are on order, with their shipping date, the pools are allowed to stay open.

Two municipal pools near Daytona Beach, FL, were shut down on Feb. 4 to be brought into compliance, but officials said one of them was expected to reopen last Friday.

Those two closings were the first in Florida, according to Jennifer Hatfield, director of government and public affairs for the Florida Swimming Pool Association. She has not heard of any fines being levied.

“I haven’t heard much about the CPSC fining anybody. They recognize the fact that the covers weren’t available until now and that it’s been very difficult for public pools to comply,” she says.

The CPSC issued a clarifying statement about compliance with the Pool & Spa Safety Act late last year that said the CPSC staff “would like to quell rumors that we intend to bring million dollar fines or prison sentences against individual pool and spa operators. The act does allow for the closure of a noncompliant pool until the owner/operator can successfully bring the facility into compliance.”

Additionally, seasonal pools and spas that are currently closed have until their reopening date in 2009 to comply with the act, according to the statement. The CPSC’s highest priority for enforcing compliance is at pools that pose the greatest risk to children. Visit the CPSC site for more information.