City of Greeley Culture, Parks and Recreation Department

Recently, an unusual, non-fatal entrapment garnered press attention around the country.

The incident took place at the Greeley Family Funplex, a recreation center in Greeley, Colo. A 31-year-old woman was lounging on her abdomen in an approximately 6-inch-deep beach entry area of the pool when her belly ring became stuck in the large, unblockable drain cover.

The jewelry had chains hanging from it, which became wedged between the slats of the Strongwell Dura Grid grating, according to officials at the facility.

"Unfortunately, once they fell through, they rotated, and it was difficult to release the participant from the grate without injuring her,” said Phil Moya, recreation program manager at Greeley’s Culture, Parks and Recreation Department.

When lifeguards couldn’t free the woman, the local fire department was called. The rescue personnel had facility staff drain the area, then proceeded to remove the drain cover, with the woman still attached.

“They got her to the side of the pool and actually had her lay across two chairs face down, with the grate hanging in between,” said Dale Lyman, division chief/fire marshal of the Greeley Fire Department. “Then they were able to get underneath and work at pushing the ring up and back through how it had come in, from the opposite direction.”

The woman sustained no injury. “It was never a life-threatening situation,” Lyman said.

The facility has been compliant with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act for two years, Moya said. In addition to changing out the drain covers, the facility also was required to install diffusion hoods in certain sumps to create enough clearance between the suction pipe and the drain cover.

The incident qualified as a mechanical entrapment, defined as an instance where an item such as a bathing suit strap or jewelry becomes stuck on the drain or other component, with or without the aid of suction, thus tethering the person. From 1999 to 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 13 such incidents, one being fatal.

However, some aquatics experts report that the true number isn’t known because non-fatal incidents can easily go unrecorded. “With clothes, it’s on the ... sides, like the vacuum lines or equalizer lines on the skimmer,” said Alison Osinski, president of Aquatic Consulting Services in Avalon, Calif. “But with jewelry, I’ve heard about necklaces and rings [getting stuck] on the bottom [of the pool],” she said.

Moya said the city of Greeley is reviewing its policies to determine if any changes are needed to prevent such incidents in the future. Because the pool complies with federal law, he added, no modifications are expected to be required. “We will continue to keep up with the industry standards, and if there are any recommendations or requirements to change the drain covers, we will address them,” Moya said.

The local press treated the incident as a cautionary tale for those with piercings. “I’m not sure some people realize the potential risks,” Lyman said. “They really need a heightened awareness of that jewelry when they’re wearing it.”

Other issues have come up as well. One professional formerly involved in writing the drain-cover standard raised the question of the size of the openings that are allowed. “It’s a huge concern to me,” said Ron Schroader, principal of Drainsafe/New Water Solutions in Lake Worth, Fla. “If you have openings in a cover that jewelry can get pulled into — or bathing suit strings or anything like that — that’s a bad thing.” He would like to see openings small enough to block military dog tags from getting through.

To comply with the suction fitting standard, ANSI/APSP-16, drain covers must pass a test that uses a device meant to represent a small child’s finger. If the device goes through the openings, then the drain cover fails.

However, if the holes were made too then, pools might not achieve the flow rates needed to properly treat the water, said Steve Barnes, product manager, safety and compliance for Pentair Aquatic Systems, and chairman of the APSP Technical Committee.

Another issue revolves around whether to have suction outlets in shallow water at all. That is being addressed in the revising of another standard — ANSI/APSP-7 Standard for Suction Entrapment Avoidance. Though far from completion, the current draft language states that there should be no submerged suction outlets in wading pools.

“If ANSI-7 gets approved as currently written, going forward, in new construction we wouldn’t have these things,” Barnes said.