Officials at the Consumer Product Safety Commission have
responded to accusations from Congress that their interpretation of
the Virginia Graeme Baker Act is dangerous for
In June, five U.S. Senators and four House members wrote to CPSC,
objecting to its handling of VGB.
The largest issue is CPSC’s decision to define an unblockable
drain as one with a specified cover, regardless of sump size. Once
a drain is considered unblockable, the pool is no longer required
to have a backup device, such as a safety vacuum release
Another objection from the legislators lies with CPSC’s
ruling that SVRS’s and other backup devices can be optional
on residential pools. They also disagreed with the decision to
exclude small bed-and-breakfast-type establishments from VGB
The legislators’ letters followed a petition campaign spurred
by the Pool Safety Council, an advocacy group composed primarily of
safety equipment manufacturers.
These decisions from the CPSC are made via ballot by a group of
five commissioners. Of the five, three voted for the current
definition of an unblockable drain. The letter writers and
petitioners were hoping to change the mind of at least one
So far, it is known that two commissioners have responded to the
letters from Congress members, but in different ways.
Commissioner Anne Northup voted for the new unblockable drain
definition and is standing by her decision.
“I believe unblockable drain covers are a significantly safer
form of protection from all five kinds of entrapment than any of
the backup systems that private companies were hoping to
sell,” she stated in a response.
Some worry about unblockable-sized covers coming off and exposing
smaller sumps. But Northup told Pool & Spa News she
believes a pool with a single, unblockable drain poses no more
danger than one with a “blockable” drain and backup
This is because backup devices have not been found to prevent all
types of entrapment, she said, adding, “If the grate comes
off, they’re all equally unsafe.”
In addition, Northup believes that the current definition will
encourage more operators to bring their pools into compliance. This
is because it’s less expensive to convert single drains into
unblockable ones than it is to add a backup device, she
Northup also had sharp words for PSC.
“The people who are objecting [to CPSC guidelines] are the
Pool Safety Council because that means they’re not going to
sell their backup systems,” she said. “If you’re
really interested in safety, you would be promoting enclosures,
alarms, more swim lessons [and other drowning-prevention
PSC declined to comment for this story.
In the long run, Northup believes the unblockable drain definition
will stand. As a former member of Congress herself, she said
she’s seen petition and letter campaigns with much more
“Generally, those kinds of things have an initial effect, but
I think as people learn more, it won’t,” she
The other commissioner to respond was Robert Adler, who also had
backed the unblockable definition. Some letters and petitions were
directed at him, asking that he change his vote.
In response, Adler met with the Pool Safety Council and the
Association of Pool & Spa Professionals to
hear the arguments surrounding the unblockable
APSP officials said they were pleased with their meeting. “We
gave [Adler] a presentation regarding the ASME/ANSI [drain cover]
standard and the tremendous strides it had made,” said APSP
counsel Steven Getzoff. While Adler can’t change the outcome
alone by taking back his vote, the group as a whole can revisit
such issues. In late July, for instance, CPSC had scheduled a vote
to decide whether to retain or change the exemption of
bed-and-breakfast-type facilities from the law. The vote had not
occurred at press time.