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    Credit: Greg Wolfe

The U.S. government’s top regulatory agency is ramping up its investigation into swimming pool and spa drain covers.

Earlier this month the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued subpoenas to three independent laboratories to learn more about their testing methods.

The CPSC, which is analyzing more than 17,000 pages of new documentation from the labs, plans to hold a public meeting in April to collect additional information.  

“The investigation has revealed that the testing protocols used by some laboratories may have been improper and, as a result, some covers certified by these laboratories may not comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act,” the agency said in a press release. “Pool and spa drains that use covers certified with inaccurate flow ratings may fail to prevent the hidden hazard of a drain entrapment.”

The VGB Act requires that all drain covers be tested and approved by a third-party laboratory. These labs include the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), NSF International and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

The labs must follow protocol outlined in the standard ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007 to determine, among other things, the maximum flow a drain cover can accommodate before potentially causing a suction hazard.

The chain of events prompting the current CPSC investigation began last year, when NSF International filed a complaint against IAPMO claiming some of the products did not perform as advertised. NSF alleged that it had tested some of the covers approved by IAPMO and found that they failed.

The complaint was made to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which accredits the drain-cover standard and the laboratories that test products for compliance.

ANSI oversaw subsequent retesting of these products, and results from a version of these tests were made public last summer by ABC News, which reported that certain covers had been rated for higher than appropriate flows.

IAPMO and the drain-cover manufacturers stood by the products and said the wrong test results were leaked to the network.

A Chicago Tribune article followed in February of this year, after which Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin requested a meeting with CPSC and called for further investigation.

At its April 5 meeting, the CPSC plans to question the laboratories, drain cover manufacturers and other industry representatives about the labs’ testing procedures (including any changes that will be made) and the potential impact on consumer safety. 

CPSC could not supply more information on precisely who will attend, but did say it expects to conclude its investigation in time to announce findings before Memorial Day weekend.

In the meantime, the ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007 committee has been working to tighten the language describing the testing protocol so there would be little to no room for interpretation.

The meeting will be held in Bethesda, Md. at 4330 East West Highway, in the hearing room on the fourth floor. Those unable to attend in person may view the meeting via webcast at www.cpsc.gov/webcast.