But new CPSC chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum asked for a review of the Pool Safety Act shortly after taking the helm of the commission last year, and called on representatives of the pool industry and pool safety advocates to make presentations to the commission. On behalf of the pool industry, pool equipment manufacturer Leif Zars argued that redesigned drain covers were enough to prevent pool suction accidents. Zars owns a company that manufactures large rounded drain covers that prevent suction.
A majority of the CPSC commissioners agreed with the pool industry's position. In March the CPSC voted 3 to 2 to reinterpret the law and drop the requirement that pool drains include a secondary anti-entrapment system. Now public and hotel pools will not have to install a secondary anti-entrapment system in order to be in compliance with the Pool Safety Act's wording of "unblockable drain."
Pool safety advocates argue that larger, rounded drain covers are not enough. In the summer of 2007, 6-year-old Zachary Cohn got trapped by the suction of the drain in his family's pool in Greenwich, Conn. His parents were unable to free him before he drowned.
"The size of the drain cover didn't matter in Zac's case," said John Procter, spokesperson for the Pool Safety Council, a non-profit safety advocacy group. "What killed him was the fact that [the drain cover] came off and exposed him to the suction of the drain itself. That's why layers of protection are so important - and part of the law."
The Cohn case is highlighted by safety advocates because the Cohn pool was new and had updated drain covers, but the builder did not install "backup layers of protection" like safety shut off valves or suction-limiting systems-the issue at the heart of the conflict surrounding the recent CPSC reinterpretation vote of the Pool Safety Act.
"The Commission not only defied the intent of the legislation by turning a blind eye to one of the specific risks that the Act is intended to eliminate, but also breached its custodial responsibility to protect the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death," wrote Nancy Baker and Karen Cohn in their letter to the CPSC after its vote. "As parents of children who have fallen victim to entrapment, we cannot stand by and allow others to experience the loss we have suffered."
"I was disappointed that the CPSC ruled against requiring layers of protection," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D.-Fla., who introduced and pushed for the passage of the Pool Safety Act. "This ruling leaves children's lives only as safe as the first layer of protection, which leaves them vulnerable to human error and mechanical failure, with no further layer of protection."
Pool safety watchdog groups were also very concerned. "The Virginia Graeme Baker law is all about layers of protection," said Paul Pennington, the founder of the Pool Safety Council. "It's shocking that [the CPSC] would change the interpretation so blatantly."
The CPSC's decision even went against the position of Chairman Tenenbaum. "In my role as Chairman," Tenenbaum said, "I am not willing to gamble the safety of our children in the hope that drain covers throughout the nation that are commonly removed for maintenance always will be reinstalled correctly or that a missing or broken drain cover will be immediately noticed by an observant pool operator who will then shut down the pool before any children are at risk."