Rec districts struggle with federal pool safety act

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By Vicky Gits

Recreation districts are having a hard time keeping up with a new federal law designed to prevent kids from being trapped by suction in swimming pools, but the law is not likely to force any pool closings in the immediate future.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act required that all pools and spas be in compliance as of Dec. 20.

The law, signed by President Bush on Dec. 19, 2007, was passed in the aftermath of the 2002 drowning death of the 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James A. Baker.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says seasonal pools must be in compliance by the time they reopen in 2009 for summer swimming season.

In the meantime, the CPSC will focus on risks to children, specifically wading pools, pools for toddlers and in-ground hot tubs that have flat drain grates and single main drain systems, according to a news release of Dec. 15.

Both the the Evergreen Park and Recreation District and Foothills Park & Recreation District in South Jeffco and said they were looking at options but had not yet installed any new safety devices to comply with the law.

The law requires all pools to have a second anti-entrapment system where there is only a single main drain and new drain covers that are stamped “ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007.” The law applies to all commercial, public and apartment pools, as well as new backyard hot tubs.

The Evergreen Park and Recreation District has posted notices at its two pools to let people know that the district is trying to obey the law, said John Skeel, district executive director.

“We had a consultant come out. We did all we could to comply with the law with one exception, because the part wasn’t available,” he said.

Skeel said the district’s newer pool will be a standard retrofit and easier to do, but the older pool at Wulf Rec Center will be more of a challenge. The cost of complying with the rule is not known, Skeel said.

The guidelines covering installation of safety devices were not made available until October, Hopp said.

“The main item is a slightly different design of drain cover,” he said. “There’s not a lot of difference between that and what we currently have.”

The Jefferson County Health Department is compiling information to determine to what extent pool operators have followed the guidelines.

All pool operators with seasonal and year-round pools are being asked to submit a plan review to the department of health and will be monitored for compliance, said David Hooker, consumer protection program manager, with the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment.

“The law is meant to prevent … hair entrapment or bodily entanglement. The suction of the main drain at a pool or spa is strong, espcially for a child. … There’s constant circulation because water is always going through the filtration system,” Hooker said.

A letter explaining the new law will be going out to pool operators before the end of the year, Hooker said. “We will have a plan review coordinator and get a listing of who is in compliance and who isn’t,” he said.

About 50 seasonal and 50 regular pools are monitored by the Jeffco health department.

Ron Hopp, Foothills’ executive director, said the drain covers were not available from the manufacturer in time to meet the deadline. “As soon as we receive them, we will be installing them,” Hopp said.

A scuba diver has been employed to examine the existing drains, Hopp said.

Most of the existing pools have drains that are not directly connected to the suction side of the pump, which means if someobdy were to cover a drain, the pressure is diverted.

“At this point, it looks like we will have to change all the drain covers,” said Derek Eberhardt, Foothills operations manager. But some of the covers aren’t on the market yet. “The CPSC staff kept reinterpreting the rules, so the manufacturers didn’t have the guidelines to begin engineering and producing them,” Eberhardt said. Covers cost about $100 for standard versions and much more for a custom design.