As the industry scrambles to address the recently announced CPSC drain-cover recall, the ripple effects are starting to be felt.
“Everyone’s head is spinning,” said Rob Romano, a general manager at David Cooke Plaster Co. in Norwalk, Conn. “Like they weren’t spinning enough from when they put [the VGB Act] in place and there were no covers to install. Then they say, ‘Here are the covers you can use.’ And now they’re saying, ‘No, no, no, they aren’t any good.’”
CPSC officials issued the recall shortly before Memorial Day weekend along with an advisory that public pools and spas needing a replacement or retrofit be closed.
Many have said that it would have made a significant difference if the announcement had come even a couple of weeks earlier, and wondered why it took so long, considering that concerns were initially raised last year.
“It’s frustrating,” said Terri Stroupe, aquatic facilities and program director at the Raleigh (N.C.) Parks and Recreation Department. “If we are all working together toward safety, they should have given us a head’s up.”
CPSC officials acknowledged the unfortunate timing, but said coordinating with the manufacturers required time. “This is not a situation where the companies volunteered early on to conduct recalls,” said Scott Wolfson, the agency’s spokesman. “We had to do our own testing, and then we had to work to negotiate with these companies to get to a global recall announcement.”
In general, many thought the recall raised more questions than answers. The announcement didn’t provide deadlines and “advised” that affected commercial pools and spas be shut down, leaving operators to make tough decisions. “We’re hoping for better direction from CPSC and manufacturers,” said Daryl Matzke, vice president/director of aquatics at Ramaker & Associates in Sauk City, Wis. “They put out the alarm and we’re all saying, ‘But now what?’”
Though many decided to close down the higher-risk wading pools, kiddie pools and spas, others chose to keep their pools open, believing the risk was very low.
YMCA, for one, has kept most of its pools open for the time being, said Kathy Fisher aquatic director of the West Morris (N.J.) Area YMCA. She closed the spa at her facility and is awaiting a replacement cover, which she was told will arrive in about four weeks.
As service firms and builders try to help clients, they remain concerned about product availability, compensation for labor and other issues controlled by the manufacturers.
“There have been no answers,” said Peter Haverlation, owner of Peter’s Pool Service in North Hills, Calif. “Nobody knows how this is going to work out. The recall notices aren’t clear. Who’s going to pay for this? How much are they paying? When do I get paid?”
When it comes to exactly how individual manufacturers are handling the recalls, most will not comment, instead directing media inquiries to the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. Of the eight producers conducting full-scale recalls, all but Waterway Plastics agreed to work through the association, which would only speak in generalities.
“Product availability varies by manufacturer,” said APSP spokeswoman Lisa Greggs. “Some have replacements or retrofits on hand, while others are working closely with customers to communicate delivery dates.”
For its part, Waterway officials said they had produced about 50,000 of the recalled units, and that their retrofit parts had begun shipping the day after the announcement.
Color Match Pool Fittings responded as well. “We’re going to work on a retrofit part that will bring our drains up to standard,” said Todd Krombein, president of the Surprise, Ariz.-based firm. “That should probably be available in a couple of months.”
Service firms and builders have had to contact each manufacturer separately, encountering different levels of responsiveness. It is clear several of the producers, too, are still finding their way. The first week, “most of them seemed to be setting up hotlines so they can direct calls to a particular department,” said Julie Godsey, customer service representative at Payan Pool Service in El Cajon, Calif. “They’re clearly new hotlines and manned, I think, by new people. There’s a learning curve.” By the following week, she said, they seemed more knowledgeable.
The product delays leave service firms and builders in the awkward position of needing to decide whether to tell clients about the recall. “Do you yell ‘liability’ right in the middle of pool season when you don’t have a resolution? No,” one professional said. “You wait until you have something in your hand that you can attack it with, and that’s what’s happening — nobody’s saying anything until there’s clarity and drain covers in hand.”
Those who do discuss it sometimes have to face angry clients. “I’m in trouble with my customers because I recommended that these drain covers be put in and now they’re looking at me like I’m on the hook,” Haverlation said. “It’s causing some people to doubt the things that you say. Those of us in the service business are catching it all because of the mismanagement of the testing procedures.”
Commercial pools aren’t the only ones affected either. Some professionals report difficulty finding drain covers for residential pools. “You cannot buy a drain cover in distribution right now unless you buy one of two bulky commercial ones,” said Bryan Chrissan, president of Clear Valley Pool Service in Temecula, Calif. “They’re being shipped, but they’re being hoarded.”
To maintain his company’s work flow, one plasterer is stocking up. “I was at SCP yesterday, and I bought everything they had that was compliant,” said Shawn Still, general manager of Olympic Pool Plastering in Norcross, Ga. “I can’t rely on the builders to provide them. I had one tell us, ‘You’re the pool plasterer; it’s your responsibility.’”
Doing that has become at least a part-time job, he added. To maintain enough inventory, he works with three local distributors and uses three brands. “One of us is speaking almost daily to the manufacturers and/or distributors, just making sure that we’re aware of what’s coming down the pipe,” he said.
But if replacements or repair kits aren’t readily available, many people may well buy from another manufacturer, some industry members said. One of Paramount Pool & Spa System’s models was recalled after just 25 units were installed. But since the announcement, its approved covers are selling in larger numbers.
“Our sales have been crazy,” said Buzz Ghiz, president of the Chandler, Ariz., firm. “This was as a result of the recall.”
Reporting for this article was contributed by Kendra Kozen, Dan Schechner, Erika Taylor, Gary Thill and Ben Thomas.