Confidential Study Warns Of 'Serious Injury Or Deaths' From Drain Covers Used In Millions of US Pools

pool drain cover

A confidential industry study obtained by ABC News warns that popular drain covers found in millions of backyard and public US pools have been incorrectly tested and that their use could "result in serious injury or deaths." While the report has not yet been made public, one of the makers of the drain covers has quietly asked retailers to stop selling one of the covers to new customers.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a national product standards certification group, found that earlier test results for four drain covers from three brands, Aquastar, Paramount, and AFRAS, were unreliable, and that the results of more stringent tests for swimmer entrapment were "cause for immediate action."

At least 11 people are known to have died from entrapment from heavy suction by pool drains since 1999, including 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker, whose death by drain entrapment in 2002 spurred the passage of a pool safety law named for her five years later. The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act created stricter anti-suction standards for pool drain products.

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The ANSI-supervised re-test simulated the blocking of the drain cover by a body for three of the covers, and "hair entanglement" for the fourth cover. Results for three of the four drain covers deviated from previously published results.

An independent expert who reviewed the results said that the "flow rate" for one of the drains tested for body blocking, the Aquastar LP8AV, was especially notable. The original test results showed a flow rate of 100 gallons per minute, but ANSI's re-test showed a flow rate of 14 gallons per minute. The ANSI report also cited results from a third-party testing group, NSF, that suggested the flow rate might be less than 6 gallons per minute.

Engineer and pool drain expert Harry Beckwith, a member of the Texas Public Pool Council, said that both results were danger signs. If the true rate is 14 gpm, said Beckwith, the "manufacturer's published information is incorrect and the drain fitting then may be used by a consumer in a ... dangerous situation leading to entrapment, evisceration, or entanglement."

While the re-test used slightly stricter procedures than the original test, ANSI said that the procedures were still not compliant with national standards, and that the testing standards themselves should be stricter.

A spokesman for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has the power to issue a nationwide product recall, confirmed that the CPSC has seen the ANSI report, but said the agency was still formulating a response. "The CPSC is still actively investigating this matter," said CPSC spokesperson Scott Wolfson. A spokesman for ANSI said the group's investigation of the drain covers is ongoing. He said the ANSI report reviewed by ABC News, while labeled "Final Report," was a draft.

In late July, after learning of the results of the ANSI-supervised test, Aquastar pulled the LP8AV from store shelves. The LP8AV, marketed by Aquastar as "super low profile," is a flat drain cover that is meant to be flush with the bottom of the pool when installed, a design that pool safety advocates say can increase the risk of suction.

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