Diving Into Summertime

As Memorial Day approaches, experts stress summer health and safety.

May 21, 2008 — -- Making sure kids are safe around the swimming pool is an issue close to Marcia Kerr's heart.

It's been 20 years since Kerr's 2-year-old son drowned in her home's swimming pool, a tragedy that happened while Kerr and her husband were making a living selling safety pool covers.

The pool had just been cleaned and the Kerrs had left off the cover to air out the chemicals.

"Right before we put the cover back on, my son went out the back door, which was not locked," said Kerr, who has spent the last 16 years working as a product safety investigator for the Consumer Products Safety Commission, in part because of the tragedy. "He actually got into the water and drowned."

As families gear up for the Memorial Day weekend, officials, parents and swim instructors are talking about how to make pools safe and healthy for children this summer.

Whether examining the risks for illnesses posed by swimming or assessing the safety of pool products and drains, they're advocating that parents keep a watchful eye on kids and take several steps to prevent both drowning and health hazards.

Keeping Kids Healthy

Gearing up for the holiday weekend, parents should be aware of illnesses and germs that chlorine can't kill.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released news about the parasite Crypto that lives in pools and water parks. There were more cases of Crypto in 2007 than ever before and the CDC warns that this summer could bring more of the same.

The bottom line is to keep kids clean to prevent Crypto from spreading.

"People need to practice healthy swimming habits, such as not swimming when they have diarrhea, not swallowing the water, taking a shower before swimming, washing their hands after using the toilet or changing diapers, and washing their children thoroughly -- especially their bottoms -- with soap and water before swimming," CDC epidemiologist Michele Hlavsa said in a statement released Monday. "To prevent outbreaks, we encourage pool operators to add supplemental disinfection to conventional chlorination and filtration methods."

Crypto can spread when swimmers accidentally swallow contaminated water in pools, lakes, rivers or oceans. The number of cases of Crypto tripled between 2004 and 2007.

Keeping Kids Safe

A report released this morning by the CPSC also reveals that there has been an increase in the number of pool and spa drowning deaths among children ages 5 and younger, according to the newest three-year averages available.

Children between the ages of 1 and 2 at home pools were found to make up most of those injuries and deaths. Today, drowning remains the leading cause of unintentional death for children between the ages of 1 and 4.

Miriam Wermelt, a mother of two children younger than 4, said she's taking several precautions as she plans to host a pool party this weekend. Wermelt said the pool has a high fence, as well as an alarm system. She plans for one parent to be in the water for every two children.

"I just always feel that at this age, it's better to be safe than sorry," Wermelt said. "They do tire, they do sometimes just get overexcited."

CPSC data released today shows that an average of 267 kids died from drowning each year between 2002 and 2004; that number rose to 283 between 2003 and 2005.

At the same time, injuries resulting from pool and spa submersions that are reported by hospitals have decreased. Between 2004 and 2006, the average number of injuries was 2,800; that number fell to 2,700 between 2005 and 2007.

For a safe and healthy summer by the pool, parents, officials and swim instructors also recommend several tips, some of which include:

Double-Check Drain Covers

Inspect pools and spas for missing or broken drain covers and don't let kids in the water if they're not working properly. Missing or broken drain covers can create enough suction to trap kids underwater. In case of emergency, also know how to turn off the pump.

Between 1999 and 2007, the CPSC found 74 cases of entrapment in pool and spa drains. Of those cases, nine people died -- eight of whom were younger than 14.

In December 2007, President Bush signed a law that requires all public pools and spas to have safety drain covers, and in certain cases, anti-entrapment system in place by December 2008 to prevent children from getting caught in the drain's suction.

"CPSC is calling upon all public pool and spa owners to comply with the new federal law and we urge parents to never let their children out of sight when they are in or around a pool or spa," acting CPSC chairwoman Nancy Nord said in a statement released today.

Surround the Pool With a Fence and Other Barriers

Give your pool a safety check to ensure it's ready for summer. That involves making sure the pool is surrounded by a fence that's at least four feet high with a self-closing, self-latching gate.

The CPSC also recommends covering the pool with a safety cover and installing door alarms if the pool is directly next to the house.

Keep Rescue Devices and a Phone Poolside

"Make sure the pool environment has a shepherd's hook and a life ring that can be tossed out to a potential drowning victim," said Kerr, who is also a founding board member and adviser to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance. "I think it's very important for parents to realize that it's up to them -- the kids are depending on them to put the safety products in place."