On the morning of February 7, my dog brought in the Chicago Tribune and I almost asked him to take it back to the driveway. Blaring at me was the front page headline "Danger lurks in pool, spa drains". This article was a monster - an entire page (all five columns). Apparently alerted by a "tipster", a Tribune "investigation" discovered that some pool drains designed to meet the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act (part of the CPSIA) requirements had apparently failed certain lab tests. Notably, there have been no reported injuries as a result of this "defect", although one manufacturer asked dealers to return stock for replacement "out of an abundance of caution".
Why does no injuries merit a full page article? The story continues. . . .
Senator Durbin of the great state of Illinois must have read the same article, because he immediately sent a letter to the CPSC alerting them to this hazard. More precisely, alerting them to this article. I am picturing him dropping his toast in horror. What an efficient clipping service. [Two words for the Senator: "Google Alerts".] His obvious and immediate concern is commendable, if you consider reading a newspaper article adequate due diligence for one of our nation's leaders. Mr. Durbin notes the outcome of his intensive research (reading the newspaper): "This appears to have allowed dangerous drain covers to continue being sold and distributed. The issues highlighted by the Tribune story are very concerning and raise serious questions, not only about dangerous drains but also about accreditation of testing facilities on products generally."
Next, the Tribune duly reported that Senator Durbin had performed his clipping service for the CPSC, thereby "legitimizing" their investigation. Case closed! The Chicago Tribune to the rescue. . . .
The Tribune must be right if Dick Durbin drops everything to send a letter . . . right?
Ummm, well, let's take a deeper look. [It's possible Durbin only read the headline. That's enough, right?] The Tribune investigation was started by a "tip". Someone with an interest in the drains and their effectiveness. Who might that be? I don't know myself, but there are rumors. We need not speculate on the rumors but we can certainly look at the article itself. In the article, the Tribune quotes an "expert" on pool drains, Paul Pennington. Did you know there was such a thing as a pool drain expert? Mr. Pennington intones: "Some child is going to die." And he's an expert! Sounds bad, very bad.
Mr. Pennington is Chairman of the Pool Safety Council. The Tribune notes: "Paul Pennington, chairman of the nonprofit Pool Safety Council, said he has sent 73 e-mails to CPSC and standards officials, pleading with them to do something about unsafe drain covers since the new law took effect in December 2008." What a guy, tirelessly fighting for innocent children.
But who is the Pool Safety Council? The Tribune explains: "His group is largely funded by the makers of devices that shut off a pool's pump when a dangerous vacuum forms, like a circuit breaker turns off power when it senses an overload." In fact, Mr. Pennington is the President of Vac-Alert Industries, Inc. Hey, here's another "shocker" - Vac-Alert has patents on vacuum alerts used in pools (patent nos. 6,591,863 and 5,991,939).
Conflict of interest? Nah! The Tribune again: "Why did Pennington think the covers were dangerous? As soon as the new drain covers hit the market in 2008, pool owners who had vacuum-release devices complained that their pumps were turning off after they installed the covers. Pennington, who owns a stake in a vacuum-release system company, investigated and concluded that the new covers were allowing the hazardous suction forces they were supposed to prevent. Pennington said his concerns were ignored by the federal government and by the standards committee that writes the testing rules for the drain covers. That committee consists mostly of people who work in the pool and spa business."
Hmmm. So you have a newspaper trying to sell papers by "saving" the populace, an entrepreneur who is leading the "fight" over pool drains with patented technology ready to replace those drains, an ambitious local politician interested in making headlines while supporting the hometown paper that helped elect him, and what do you get? The feeding frenzy that gave birth to the CPSIA. Everyone's a winner . . . except for the businesses and markets caught in the middle.
Makes you anxious to vote again, doesn't it?