Late last month, President George W. Bush signed the first-ever federal pool and spa safety legislation.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act passed as an amendment to a 3,400-page comprehensive energy bill. It mandates entrapment-proof drain covers and establishes a grant program where money is given to individual states when they pass laws addressing prevention of drowning and entrapment.

“The passage of this legislation means fewer children will die from drowning in swimming pools or spas,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who authored the House bill. “Three hundred thirty-five children died in the United States in 2004, and basic pool safety legislation would have dramatically reduced those fatalities.”

Bill Weber, president/CEO of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, said his organization backs the new law. “I think it’s very positive for the industry, and APSP feels good about it,” he said.

“Our objective was to be sure the language in the bill that called for anti-entrapment laws was consistent with our standard,” he added. “That would enable us to take the standards to any state that wants to participate and say, ‘If you want to comply and participate in this program, here’s the answer.’ That’s precisely what happened.”

The law is very similar to a bill that was passed last year.

One addition came after a 6-year-old girl was entrapped by a drain and eviscerated in a Minnesota golf-club pool. The amendment states that within a year, all public pools must contain a main-drain cover that complies with ASME/ANSI A112.19.8. Existing public pools without those drain covers must be retrofitted.

Public pools with a single main drain (other than an unblockable drain) also will need a system designed to prevent suction entrapment. These include a safety vacuum release system, suction-limiting vent system, gravity drainage system, automatic pump shut-off system, drain disablement or another system determined to be as effective.

On the residential side, all pools built after 2008 must be constructed with such drain covers. All drain covers manufactured and sold in the United States must conform to the ASME/ANSI standard beginning next year.

Other than that, the law establishes a grant program whereby states can receive money by passing safety legislation. The Consumer Product Safety Commission will administer the program and determine which minimum requirements state legislation must fulfill to qualify.