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.
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.
Aquastar sent a letter to retailers telling them that it had decided to discontinue the product, and asked retailers to send unsold units back. "As a distributor or dealer that has purchased this model in the past," said the letter, "this is to notify you that this model is NOT to be sold until further notice, we will no longer be manufacturing this model, and ... we must replace all existing inventory with a certified comparable model."
Aquastar cofounder Wade Arens told ABC News that the company decided to discontinue the product "within 24 hours" of learning of the ANSI test results.
"We said, 'Let's take this off the market and improve it and exceed the standard,' " he explained. He added, however, that he did not believe that the LP8AV drain cover in the ANSI retest was properly installed, and that his company makes 103 different drain covers, all of them compliant with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
A second Aquastar cover, the 32CDFL, was retested by ANSI for "hair entanglement," and also produced flow rates lower than earlier published results.
Arens said that about 8,000 unsold LP8AV drain covers had been returned from retailers in California and Arizona since the letter was sent out. The letter did not notify consumers that the product had been discontinued, however, nor did it recall existing drain covers already sold and installed in pools. Arens said Aquastar has sold "millions" of drain covers nationwide, and while he could not provide a national estimate for the LP8AV model, said there were probably 8,000 to 12,000 LP8AV covers still in use in pools in Arizona and California.
Safety advocate Paul Pennington, president of the Pool Safety Council, blasted the Aquastar recall as inadequate. "It only pulls the drain covers from the distributors," he said. "It does not pull the drain covers that are installed in public pools." Pennington said he believes the CPSC should issue a nationwide recall of the LP8AV cover, a product he has been criticizing for years.
Reza Afshar, president of AFRAS, maker of the ABF64 cover, said AFRAS has been selling that cover since the 1980s and has always been in compliance with federal standards. He challenged the results of the ANSI test, which showed a lower flow rate than previously reported.
"We have sold over a million of these drains, and we've never had a single entrapment issue, to my knowledge," said Afshar. "That's why I question the integrity of the ANSI test."
Representatives of Paramount, makers of the SDX drain cover, did not respond to an ABC News request for comment. ANSI's re-test of the SDX produced the same flow rate as the manufacturer's original results, 200 gallons per minute. A separate test conducted by NSF and cited by ANSI, however, suggested that the flow rate might be 117.