Down the Drain
Drains are an essential part of any pool, a key component of the filtration system that keeps the pool water warm, chlorinated and free of sand — and until someone invents a better way, all that water isn’t draining out of the pool basin any other way. Unfortunately, pool drains have also been the root of several catastrophic-injury lawsuits in recent years. Case in point: In Gary, N.C., a five-year-old girl had most of her intestines sucked out when she became caught in a drain vortex at a local wading pool in 1991. Her parents eventually tagged the manufacturer, the county and the recreation center for a blistering $30.9 million in damages.
In response to cases like this one, some states are passing legislation to prevent pool users from going down the drain. In 1994, North Carolina passed a law outlawing single drains in public pools with water levels less than 18 inches deep. Last year, California passed a bill requiring, among other things, that all commercial pools be retrofitted with at least two drains. The theory behind these laws is that two drains split the suction, thus reducing the risk of injury to users. Manufacturers and product development companies have also gotten in on the act. At least two —the Fort Pierce, Fla.-based Vac Alert Inc™. and the Denver-based Fail-Safe LLC — have developed safety valves that shut down the suction pump in the event a blockage occurs. Meanwhile, response in California to the new legislation has been largely favorable, says Bill Rowley, owner of Rowley International Inc., who helped champion his state’s bill. In fact, the only hitch has been the question of who will enforce it. ‘Any bill in California that makes anybody do anything is controversial," says Rowley. "But the bottom line is that if this can stop even one of these accidents from happening, it’s worth it." Supporters of safer pool design may want to savor their victory. The next battle in California — enacting similar multi-drain legislation for spas — may be significantly harder to win.