Pool Drain Covers Are Focus of Government Investigation

Some pool drain covers that were certified as compliant with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB), a federal law that requires all public pools and spas to be fitted with anti-entrapment drain covers, may not protect against that risk, according to a government investigation.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency charged with enforcing the VGB Act, announced last month that it is investigating whether several laboratories had used improper testing procedures in certifying the flow ratings of the drain covers. As a result, some covers that were certified as VGB-compliant may not be, according to a statement from the CPSC.

Kathleen Reilly, who heads the CPSC’s Pool Safely campaign, told Club Industry that the agency had not launched the investigation in response to any specific incident, and that the CPSC had not received any reports of recent entrapment incidents.

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune, prompted by an anonymous tip, found that the CPSC had been aware of concerns regarding testing procedures for two years before it launched its investigation last July. The newspaper reported its own investigation into the matter in February, a month before the CPSC released the statement announcing its investigation.

The CPSC statement said that the agency has issued subpoenas to three laboratories involved in testing the drain covers and that the commission’s staff will hold a public meeting to discuss this issue with testing laboratories, drain cover manufacturers and other industry representatives on April 5. The CPSC aims to identify the incorrectly certified covers to the public by Memorial Day weekend.

Reilly says it is too early to speculate what CPSC’s next course of action will be, what could be expected of the laboratories and manufacturers involved, or how operators whose pools and spas were fitted with the drain covers identified by the investigation will have to respond.

“The investigation is still ongoing and the public meeting will provide additional information about testing and products on the market,” Reilly said. “We cannot say what the outcome will be at present.”

The testing issues may not be a surprise to some in the aquatics industry who felt that the year Congress gave CPSC to implement the act was not long enough for the industry to respond.

Tom Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), told Club Industry that the NSPF wrote to the CPSC in December 2008 to ask that the agency extend its deadline for implementation by 12 to 18 months. The one-year deadline, he said, not only allowed insufficient time for the drain covers to be tested and manufactured but also forced operators to comply before the CPSC had launched the bulk of its education program.

The NSPF is one of several industry associations the CPSC has contracted to help educate pool operators about their responsibilities with regards to the VGB Act. Its director of environmental health programs, Tracynda Davis, says that the CPSC has not provided information on the investigation to NSPF or other industry associations.

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