The Consumer Product Safety Commission has voted to restrict allowances given to unblockable drain covers in the federal pool and spa safety law.

Today, CPSC’s voting commissioners decided to change the definition of an unblockable drain to require that the sump, in addition to the drain cover, measure more than 18 by 23 inches and meet certain other testing criteria. The measure passed 3 to 2, in what some say was a predetermined outcome.

The decision is retroactive, so pools that were brought into VGBA compliance with the installation of an unblockable–sized cover over a single, blockable-sized drain will have be split, supplemented with a secondary system, or otherwise treated like a single outlet.

While the agency has posted a compliance date of May 28, 2012, it has declared a 60-day public-comment period for affected parties to comment on whether that deadline is realistic.

This latest episode attached to the first federal pool and spa safety law began in April 2010, when the Commission decided a drain can be considered unblockable if its cover complies with the VGB Act, regardless of sump size. This measure proved controversial. It spurred immediate push-back and a letter-writing campaign from safety advocates, as well as some politicians and industry professionals concerned that unblockable drains would become unsafe if their covers came off and exposed a smaller sump.

The CPSC is comprised of five commissioners — two Republicans, two Democrats and a chairman appointed by the US President. Two of the three Democrats — Chairman Inez Tenenbaum and Thomas Moore — opposed last year’s ruling. The two Republicans — Anne Northup and Nancy Nord — voted for it.

The only Democrat to approve last year’s interpretation, Robert Adler, was the primary target of the letter-writing campaign and other protest. After receiving input from parties on both sides of the question, Adler had a change of heart and initiated the revote. In early September, with two weeks’ notice, the agency announced the meeting but did not invite public comment.

The two Republican voting members publicly protested the revote. While it was originally scheduled to take place Sept. 21, one of the Republican members — Nord — exercised the right all commissioners have to move the hearing back a week, to today. Both she and Northup voted against the move.

“Certainly Anne’s disappointed in the outcome of the vote,” said Mark Fellin, a spokesperson for Northup. “We knew it was coming, but I think the entire time we had hoped that the facts would present themselves and we would make a rule based on those facts. ... All the facts that we’ve received have been that the current method was ... safe and where we’re going forward now is actually going to create more problems in the future.”

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