The Consumer Product Safety Commission is drawing closer to finalizing a deadline for unblockable-drain retrofits, while some in the industry try to work around the requirements in new ways.

In 2010, the CPSC determined that an unblockable drain cover could be installed over a smaller sump to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act. “Unblockable” was defined as a cover measuring more than 18-by-23-inches and meeting certain testing criteria. Last September, the group reversed itself, requiring that the sump also meet the dimensional and flow criteria. Three of the five voting commissioners said they feared that the smaller sumps could pose a danger if the drain covers were to come off.

The CPSC mandated retrofits on drains that fell out of the unblockable category. It set a deadline of May 28, 2012, but said it would consider a later date based on public comments.

With the deadline and Memorial Day weekend less than two months away, the agency is closer to finalizing the matter. On Thursday, April 5, 2012, CPSC will vote on whether to allow a deadline extension of nearly one year to retrofit the drains in question. The extension was recommended by staff and, if approved, will move the deadline to May 23, 2013, the Thursday before Memorial Day.

“If a pool operator installed an unblockable drain system, staff believes it is reasonable to allow them time to budget and plan for the expenditure required to install a secondary anti-entrapment system,” said a memo to the four voting commissioners.

Staff also stated that this extension would apply only to those facilities affected by the unblockable-drain change, and that enforcement will continue uninterrupted on all other pools and spas.

At least one of the four, Commissioner Anne Northup, is behind an extension.

“From Anne’s perspective, if staff says ... we should extend the date, Anne’s going to be for that,” said Northup spokesperson Mark Fellin. “Anne didn’t want it changed to begin with.”

She and fellow Republican Commissioner Nancy Nord opposed the September decision. Northup encouraged interested parties to register comments not only on the retrofit deadline, but on the merits of the reversal itself, hoping the agency would reconsider. Commenters obliged, with many decrying the reversal and others applauding it.

Though the vast majority of commenters chose to address the merits of the decision rather than the deadline, all signs indicate that CPSC will hold to its decision.

While CPSC is at work to nail down a deadline, some in the industry are trying different strategies to adapt to, or reverse, the decision. In the first category is Bee Safe Systems, an unblockable-drain producer in Provo, Utah. In a petition to CPSC, the company requested that its product be reclassified as compliant. According to the VGBA, a technology not specifically named in the law can comply if CPSC deems it at least as safe as those that were mentioned.

Bee Safe CEO Bonnie Snow is asking that her product be so named, saying the technology doesn’t rely solely on the cover’s size but includes additional features to help prevent hair entrapment and cover removal.

“Our product really is a drain system rather than a drain cover,” she said.

CPSC has published the petition in the Federal Register and opened the issue up to a 60-day comment period, after which the agency has 120 days for review.

Another, less proprietary, effort also is in the works. Walt Sanders, a lobbyist hired by manufacturer Worldwide Sports, has submitted a petition asking that CPSC deem drain covers meeting certain criteria to be at least as safe as those specifically named in the law.

The petition proposes that to qualify, covers would have to satisfy the drain-cover standard ANSI/APSP-16-2011, must remain safe when covered by an 18-by-23-inch blocking element, be designed to be affixed to a smaller sump, and have a certified flow rating equal to or greater than the pump’s flow capacity.

“The big worry is the [cover] will come off or get broken,” Sanders said. “What we’re saying is, if it’s secure enough and good enough and big enough, and it meets the standard, it should be classified as another system.”

The petition, also signed by the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, the National Swimming Pool Foundation and the American Hotel & Lodging Association, is being reviewed by CPSC to see if it qualifies for a public comment period and CPSC consideration.