The battle over terms in the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, as well as two highly publicized, particularly tragic drownings, has spurred a wave of negative press.
In early August, an Associated Press article featured the parents of two entrapment victims who stated that the industry was working to weaken the VGB Act.
Shortly afterward, Consumer Reports posted a blog stating that backup devices such as safety vacuum release systems should be required on all pools with single drains, even if that drain is considered unblockable.
In addition, The Boston Globe published an article saying that, amid safety concerns, the prospect of pool ownership is losing its appeal. It stated that most young parents won’t consider a house if it has a pool, and many current owners are opting to remove their pools. The piece came after the area was devastated by the drowning deaths of two sets of toddler twin girls — one 2-1/2 years old and the other 4 — in separate incidents that both occurred in Massachusetts.
In the AP article, Nancy Baker, mother of Virginia Graeme Baker, and Karen Cohn, mother of Zachary Archer Cohn, discussed their drowning prevention advocacy. Baker was a prime force behind VGB’s passage. Cohn, along with her husband, formed the ZAC Foundation (named using their son’s initials), which is devoted to pool safety.
But Cohn expressed discontent with VGB’s implementation, specifically how the Consumer Product Safety Commission interpreted the law regarding unblockable drains.
In March, CPSC voted to classify certain drains as unblockable regardless of sump size. A pool with an unblockable drain is not required to have a backup device such a safety vacuum release system. The decision sparked protest from nine members of the House and Senate, including the law’s author, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.),
“The laws are trying to be rolled back by the pool industry,” Cohn told AP, “and we really want to make sure that we’re here to protect the children.”
In a separate interview with Pool & Spa News, Cohn said the law originally called for layers of protection and that, by reducing the role of backup devices, CPSC deviated from the law’s intent.
“Those additional layers of protection have been taken out,” she said. “If those layers of protection had been in place, my son would be alive today. … I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”
Industry professionals expressed sympathy for Cohn and Baker and admiration for their cause. But many take issue with the contention that the industry wants to weaken VGB.
“The innuendo is that the industry wasn’t supportive of safety, and I strongly disagree,” said John Romano, president of All American Custom Pools & Spas in Norwalk, Conn. “I don’t think there are any incidents on record in a pool built to [ANSI/APSP] standard.”
They also worry about the impact the negative press has on the image of pools and spas. “It proliferates doom and gloom about pool ownership, which is not [justified],” Romano said. “Pools have such a positive impact.”
Some wonder if the industry is doing enough to promote pool and spa benefits.
“Pools are safe if they’re built correctly,” said Buzz Ghiz, president of Paramount Pool and Spa Systems in Chandler, Ariz. “I think that [APSP] should get the word out, or pool builders in local cities could get together to do something within their own communities.
“I think the message has to be, ‘You can buy a pool with confidence. The pool is safe, and here’s what we’re doing to make it safe and still have all the wonderful features and benefits for your family.”
Bill Weber, president and CEO of APSP, said the organization has approached the press several times this year to discuss the upside of ownership. “Positive articles came out recently as a result of that,” he said. “But it’s beyond our power to control everybody’s reaction when these awful incidents happen.”