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 story.

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 doing.”

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 Reilly said.

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 the commission.”

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.

Update: 6.11.2010

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 Act.

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.