As the CPSC announced when it kicked off Pool Safety Week in late May, deaths and injuries to children from pools and spas are breathtaking in scale. CPSC statistics indicate that deaths from pools and spas average more than ONE PER DAY and serious injuries requiring emergency room treatment average more than 11.5 PER DAY. Now THAT'S a serious problem.
By contrast, lead accounted for one death and three unverified injuries over eleven years. So in one day, pools injure more kids than lead did in eleven years.
And how does the CPSC respond to these two threats? Well, for lead, they force industry to spend more than $5.6 billion per year in compliance costs (this doesn't even count aggravation costs).
And pools? The agency runs some PSA commercials. Here's a new one:
Love that sense of balance and proportionality. Of course, whacking innocent companies over lead gets good headlines and makes the regulators look valiant. No one wants the agency to crack down on pools. Perhaps it's only cynics like me that think this lame approach reveals a lack of commitment to safety by both the agency and Congress. Perhaps our regulators think Public Service Announcements are PERFECT to reduce the scourge of pool deaths and injuries, but only asphyxiation of the children's product industry will address the lead "threat".
Particularly amusing, then, is the response of municipalities to the Pool Safety Initiative. Who remembers Chairman Inez Tenenbaum's hearty self-congratulation on February 17, 2010 for conducting inspections of 1200 pools? Her words: "We've carried out my principle of firm but fair enforcement of product safety laws by inspecting 1200 public pools and spas for compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act - the results gave us good reason to believe that the law is working". She made a similar assertion in Congressional testimony in September 2009: "In addition, CPSC investigators have inspected over 1200 pools and spas in 38 states as part of a recently launched enforcement initiative. The good news is that CPSC’s public outreach and education efforts seem to be having a positive impact in this area. Recent inspections show that most public pools and spas have installed or have plans to install the new, compliant drains covers and safety equipment in the near future. Let me state again, contrary to some reports, there are many more public pools and spas that have been made safer because of this important law."
Problem solved? According to the Fresno Bee, it's hardly a closed book: "About half of the 1,300 public pools and hot tubs in Fresno County do not comply with new state safety standards designed to prevent swimmers from being caught by suction on drains, county officials say." [This is the Virginia Graeme Baker law.] What explains the hold-up? The repairs are costly and then there's the sense of urgency: "Mary Jo Quintero, water safety program coordinator for Children's Hospital Central California, said she is not aware of any entrapment injuries occurring in the Merced-to-Bakersfield region during her 30-year tenure at the hospital."
Perhaps you have heard of the financial problems in California and in municipalities in general. Think of the impact of this law when money is in short supply: "The city of Fresno retrofitted its four large pools more than a year ago, costing about $60,000, said city spokeswoman Heather Heinks. 'We are totally compliant. It's been county-inspected,' she said." So a few public pools have been fixed . . . and as for the rest of the public pools - no one is in much of a hurry. "Although many pools are not yet up to code, officials say they have no plans to immediately shut them down."
So the local government is blowing this off. What about private owners? Are they just as bold, or are they afraid to defy government agencies armed with heavy penalties? "However, some apartment owners are closing pools on their own because they can't afford the upgrades, said Bob Waterston, a former Fresno County supervisor who owns a pool company that specializes in the retrofits."
The CPSC is running Public Service Announcements telling you to watch your kid in the pool (duh) in response to a childhood activity that is wildly popular and scandalously dangerous. The agency is also bragging about its enforcement of this high-profile law, asserting results that seem to be untrue. Hmmm. And as for the lead "problem" that produced one death and three unverified injuries in more than a decade, the CPSC has been actively developing rules that will lead to business death by compliance.
I just love our government!