"I kept pulling at her, never understanding what was holding her down and I couldn't pull her off," said Nancy Baker. "I opened my eyes underwater and there aren't words to describe what this is like," she said. The suction pressure holding her daughter down was later estimated at 700 pounds.
"I really wish it wasn't my daughter," said Baker. "But when she died [the issue] moved from the back pages of the newspaper to the front pages of the newspaper."
In December 2007, in a rare bipartisan vote, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool And Spa Safety Act to provide basic drain safety standards and layers of backup protection from dangerous drain suction for the nation's public and hotel pools and hot tubs.
The law mandates that drains in about 300,000 of the nation's public and hotel pools and hot tubs be covered with larger, rounded covers that do not create suction, and that there be a back-up mechanical system installed in drains to prevent suction in those pools that have a single main drain. As many as half of the pools and hot tubs covered by the Pool Safety Act have single main drains.
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.
A majority of the CPSC commissioners agreed with the pool industry's position. 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."
Baker and Karen Cohn, mother of a six-year-old who died in 2007, sent an angry letter to the CPSC just after the five-member commission's 3-to-2 vote.
"We urge you to reconsider and fulfill the intent of this important new law by installing the layers of protection that are required to mitigate-if not eliminate-incidences of drowning across this country." wrote Baker and Cohn. "There's too much at stake."
Pool safety advocates argue that larger, rounded drain covers are not enough. In the summer of 2007, Cohn's son Zachary 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.