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Summer's coming: Are pool drains safe for kids?
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Nearly three months after a federal deadline to make public swimming pools safer, many have yet to be fitted with equipment aimed at keeping children safe from the powerful and sometimes deadly suction of drains.
Industry groups say public pools were given too little time to comply, and manufacturers of drain covers and pumps weren't able to keep up with heavy demand from the new law.
The high cost of retrofitting some pools has also been a problem, along with some state and local officials still trying to figure out how to enforce the law.
Compliance frustration drove Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire to recently ask the Consumer Product Safety Commission to extend the deadline by up to two years.
"It is a tremendous challenge for states to explain to our public pool and spa facilities how best to comply with this very complex, new federal law," Gregoire wrote to the commission's acting chairman, Nancy Nord.
It's not clear how many noncompliant pools are open or will reopen this spring. Neither the commission nor industry and safety groups has statistics on compliance, but they agree the number in violation of the law is large.
"A lot of people are being quiet about it. They're just making their own internal decisions about what risk they're willing to live with," said Tom Lachocki, who heads the National Swimming Pool Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers safety and educational training for pool operators.
The United States has nearly 300,000 public pools, with nearly half in California, Florida and Texas, according to industry figures. Lachocki estimated about 30 percent of pools currently comply with the law, based on "people who speak to us informally."
The federal law, which doesn't cover private pools, was named for Virginia Graeme Baker, a 7-year-old granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III who drowned in 2002 after being trapped by the suction from a spa drain.