The good news is that fewer children under age 15 appear to be drowning in swimming pools and hot tubs across the country.

The bad news is that in 2009, emergency rooms treated far more children for pool and spa submersion injuries than in the two years prior.

The news was included among the latest data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission on pool and spa drowning injuries and fatalities. That data, along with updated findings on suction entrapment incidents, was released in concert with CPSC’s recent launch of its nationwide public education effort linked to the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

“The take-home message for people in the industry is that we cannot hide from this issue,” said Thomas Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“If we don’t make this an active part of what we do every day, we’re opening ourselves to further regulation ‘ and there’s no guarantee it’s going to be done the right way,” he continued. “With the added public awareness of these issues, it now raises the bar for our industry to address those types of things.”

Among the more noteworthy information on drownings, CPSC found:

• For children under age 5, fatal and nonfatal incidents were far more likely to take place in residential pools and spas vs. public facilities.

• For children age 15 and younger, nearly three-quarters of all pool or spa-related deaths occurred at the victim’s home, a family or friend’s home, or a neighbor’s house.  

• For children under age 15, nearly 60 percent of fatalities took place in inground pools, followed by aboveground pools (14 percent) and portable pools (9 percent).

“For most people, once their pools are built, there’s very little follow-up to safety and drowning prevention,” Lachocki said. “You cannot walk away from the pool — whether you’re a builder or a service company or a retailer — and not help them operate that pool more safely.”

As for entrapments, CPSC’s findings confirm anecdotal accounts that, while tragic, such incidents comprise a miniscule percentage of pool and spa injuries and deaths.

From 1999-2009, approximately 94 total incidents (12 of them fatal) were attributed to suction entrapment, the agency found. In 2009 there were eight reported entrapments, none of which were fatal.   

In contrast to drowning, children under age 5 were involved in 12 of the 94 reported incidents of entrapment, none of them fatal.

In light of the resources spent on entrapment prevention in recent years, the numbers raised a few eyebrows.  

“It doesn’t mean we should neglect entrapment, but we should be spending proportionally on areas that will have the biggest impact on preventing death and misery … and not overspending in areas that aren’t going to have as great an impact,” Lachocki noted.

But others maintain that, spending aside, the added attention of legislation such as VGB on pool safety has helped raise public awareness.

“We’ve seen enough things out there that were just looming hazards waiting to happen,” said Javier Payan, owner of Payan Pool Service in El Cajon, Calif., who discussed the issue with VGB sponsor Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, D-Fla, during last year’s National Drowning Prevention Symposium in Miami Beach, Fla.

“So this has given us an opportunity to fix a lot of those things,” Payan added. “VGB has created a brand-new venue for people to do things the right way now.”