Note: This article was updated 6.11.2010. Please see update below.
The Pool Safety Council has waged a strongly worded campaign to change the requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.
PSC is an advocacy group composed primarily of safety equipment manufacturers.
The organization is founded and chaired by Paul Pennington, the
former president of Vac-Alert, a maker of safety vacuum release systems
based in Santa Rosa, Calif.
The group is trying three avenues to convince the
Commission to change its guidelines. Pennington has e-mailed
several supporters, asking them to print and sign a letter, then send it to CPSC. Pennington’s group also has posted online petitions on two Websites specializing in grass-roots
activism. PSC’s Website links to one of the petitions.
However, the intent of the campaign isn’t completely clear.
One petition states PSC’s disagreement with CPSC’s
decision to not require backup devices such as safety vacuum
release systems on all commercial pools.
“It is ludicrous to rely solely on drain covers, especially
since it’s not a matter of if a drain cover will become
missing or break, but a matter of when,” stated a document
asking supporters for their help.
One letter to CPSC stated: “Even dual drains are not safe
without a backup because drains can get blocked. … Because of
your recent vote, our children will be put at unnecessary risk.”
Another letter is more generalized and directly accuses CPSC of
placing children’s lives in danger.
At one time, it was thought that CPSC might mandate all states to
require backup devices on residential pools if they wanted grant
money from the agency. (The so-called residential part of VGB only
goes into effect in states seeking such funds.) In March, however,
the five commissioners voted to require backups, such as SVRS
systems, but only on single-drain pools.
Another decision from the commission provided an alternative route
for those with single-drain pools — commercial as well as
residential. CPSC ruled that a drain could be considered
unblockable as long as the cover met the requirements. Before, some
contended that the sump also had to fall within certain parameters.
Therefore, the March decision opened the door for pool owners to
simply outfit a single main drain with an unblockable cover.
Because unblockable drains can stand alone, this would eliminate
the need for a secondary device, such as an SVRS.
PSC Chairman Pennington and his group declined to comment for this
The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals doesn’t agree with
PSC’s contentions. “We think the rulings are keeping
pools safe,” said APSP legislative advocate Jennifer
Hatfield. “We’re very supportive of all the CPSC is
The letters and petitions are targeted at one commissioner in
particular: Robert Adler. The unblockable decision was made by a
vote of three to two, and Adler was in the majority. In a public
statement, he outlined his reasoning: “If a cover renders a
pool or spa’s main drain unblockable, I can see no safety
reason for interpreting the words ‘main drain’ narrowly.”
He also stated that if backup devices such as SVRS’s had been
proven to reduce or prevent all forms of entrapment, he would have
been more likely to require them on single-drain pools.
“… I note that these systems, which can be quite
expensive, do not address hazards such as organ evisceration from
sitting on a drain, or hair entanglement in drains,”
Adler’s statement read. “In fact, the only protection
that seems to address virtually all hazards is the drain cover
which, if fully compliant with the voluntary standard (and of
sufficient dimension), is the most cost-effective approach to safety.”
At some point, he also acknowledged that this was a hotly contested
issue and invited input from the public, CPSC spokeswoman Kathleen
In the letters, Adler is being asked to shift the guidelines by
changing his vote; however, it’s not that simple, Reilly
said. Once the vote is taken, it is considered closed. For the
language to change, VGB would have to be taken up by all the
commissioners again, and a request to do so would have to come
through official channels. While Adler could request that the issue
be revisited, it is an unusual occurrence.
In the meantime, Reilly said, “We stand by the decision of
PSC’s Website claimed that the commissioners may have been
unduly swayed by others. “The reversal brings into question
the influence representatives of the pool industry have in
CPSC’s decision-making process,” it stated.
But Hatfield rejected that claim. “We’ve all had the
ability to be part of the process, and the CPSC deemed what they
think was in the best interest of the public.”
At press time, the online petitions had a combined 36 signatures.
It isn’t known how many letters were mailed.
Four members of Congress have joined the protest against key
decisions that the Consumer Product Safety Commission made earlier
this year regarding the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety
Letters were sent June 10 to certain commissioners who voted to do the following:
- expand the definition of unblockable drains,
- remove back-up devices such as safety vacuum release systems from the state grant requirements that would pertain to residential pools,
- exempt certain small accommodations facilities from VGB compliance.
The letter writers included three Democrats — VGB co-author Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; James Himes and John Larson of Connecticut — and Republican Frank Wolf of Virginia.