On Thursday, four members of Congress sent letters of protest to the federal commissioners who they say weakened a safety law meant to prevent deaths from pool-drain suction, asking the commissioners to reverse their decision.
"We are sorely disappointed to learn that [the Consumer Product Safety Commission] has chosen to interpret the law in the most egregious and narrow way possible, eliminating the requirement for pools and spas to be equipped with back-up systems," say the identical letters.
"The swimming season is upon us. We are writing to you to urge you in the strongest possible way to reverse these rulings."
The letters, signed by Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and James Himes and John Larson of Connecticut, and Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia, are the latest development in a pool-season push to get the CPSC to enforce what safety advocates consider the original intent of a law passed in 2007 to prevent deaths from drain suction.
In March, the CPSC voted to interpret the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, named for a seven-year-old who died in a pool-drain incident in 2002, to no longer require back-up anti-entrapment systems in the drains of as many as 150,000 public and hotel pools and hot tubs.
The decision outraged pool-safety advocates and the parents of children killed by pool-drain suction.
Nancy Baker, mother of Virginia Graeme Baker, said she had read comments from the commissioners who voted to reinterpret the law. "They say the problem [of pool-drain suction] is small and rare. It's always been rare to die this way. But the bigger point is that it's preventable and it's a violent and horrible way for a small child to die. How many kids have to die or be maimed in that way for the CPSC?"
Members of Congress aren't the only ones putting pressure on the CPSC. Baker signed a June 9 letter from the group Safe Kids to one of the three commissioners who voted to interpret the law, Obama appointee Robert Adler, urging him to change his vote. Paul Pennington of the Pool Safety Council has also launched an on-line petition that targets Adler.
The letters signed by the four members of Congress went to Adler and the two other commissioners who voted to reinterpret the Act, Obama appointee Anne Northup and Bush appointee Nancy Nord.
The vacuum effect in pool drains is powerful enough to hold swimmers, especially children, to the bottom of a pool. Contact between human skin and a flat pool drain can create suction equal to hundreds of pounds of pressure. In one horrific instance, four adult men were unable to pull a young girl from the grasp of a deadly drain. Swimmers can die from drowning or evisceration.
From 1999 to 2008, according to CPSC data, there were 83 reports of suction entrapment, including 11 deaths and 69 injuries. Experts say the number of deaths and injuries may be much higher, however, because police and medical records don't always list specific causes for drowning.
Nancy Baker's daughter Virginia Graeme Baker died in a tragic spa accident in 2002. The 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker died in her mother's arms after she sat on the underwater floor drain of a hot tub.