In a major setback for safety-product advocates, the International Code Council has agreed to relax its suction-entrapment standards on new and existing pools.

The ICC this month voted to abandon its latest standard in favor of the benchmark used by the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals. Now, the International Residential Code and International Building Code state that SVRSs are optional for new pools, and just one of several alternatives for retrofitting existing ones.

The decision came after months of wrangling between APSP and the Pool Safety Consortium, a group of safety-product manufacturers.

“We are disappointed about the vote at the ICC hearings,” said Paul Pennington, president of Vac-Alert Industries, Fort Pierce, Fla., and founding member of the Pool Safety Consortium. “[We] have been strong advocates for pool safety and the elimination of pool and spa drain entrapment for nine years, and will continue to do so.”

Officials voted to adopt the ANSI/APSP-7 Standard for Suction Entrapment Avoidance during the second of two hearings to hammer out the 2009 codes.

APSP had initially requested the codes be changed during a hearing in February. But the committees rebuffed the groups' appeal, instead advising the opposing parties to work toward a consensus.

APSP and Pool Safety Consortium representatives did meet in the spring, but were unable to agree on whether SVRSs should be mandated.

APSP officials were understandably pleased with the latest outcome.

“This move is good for public safety,” said Carvin DiGiovanni, senior director of technical services for APSP. “It goes with the philosophy of the [ANSI/APSP standards], to provide as many technologies and options as possible, because it's not a case of one-size-fits-all. If you mandate one particular item, you may be missing something, because it may not fit that particular design or application.”

The trade association's position was fortified when, just prior to the vote, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released its initial interpretation of the residential requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act.

Much like its commercial guidelines announced this summer, the residential requirements list SVRSs as optional. The CPSC's requirements, however, will be finalized after a month of public comment.

Although many industry members are pleased with this development, some believe the ICC's decision was largely the byproduct of misinformation.

“It is clear to us that there was confusion within the voting body regarding the [ASME/ANSI drain cover standards],” Pennington said. “Likewise, there was confusion over the yet-to-be finalized CPSC staff interpretation of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.”

Regardless, the ruling will have little immediate impact. State and local governments first must adopt the 2009 version of the International Building Code and Appendix G of the 2009 International Residential Code.

It could take months, even years, before the effects of the ICC's decision are felt.

The ANSI/APSP-7 standard mandates that new pools with suction outlets include two or more per pump, placed 3 or more feet apart, or a single unblockable drain. All drains must be covered with covers that meet the most recent version of ASME/ANSI A112.19.8 standard. Flow ratings for each drain configuration are noted in the standard.

Existing single-suction-outlet pools under renovation should be retrofitted with a second drain per pump, an unblockable drain, gravity flow system, engineered vent system, or SVRS. Or, the single suction must be disabled or converted to a return inlet (provided that another means is provided for generating water circulation).