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Federal Pool Law: Who's Supposed To Enforce It?

A federal law intended to make public swimming pools safer is costing central Ohio communities thousands of dollars. WOSU reports, it appears no one is in charge of monitoring the changes to pools.

After several days of cool and unseasonal like weather last week families hit the Dublin pool on Woerner Temple Road. Toddlers splash around spouts of water in the kiddie area.

What these children, and many of their parents, do not know is Dublin Parks and Recreation just made more than $12,000 in safety changes to its outdoor pool facilities. The steps were taken to become compliant with a new federal law - the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. The law is named for a little girl who became entrapped in a spa drain and drowned.

The law says every public pool in the United States must change its drain covers to avoid entrapment and reduce suction. Private, backyard pools are exempt from the law.

Jeanne Wunderle is a Dublin recreation administrator. While the city's outdoor swimming facilities are compliant, Wunderle said the indoor facility is not. And here's why.

"The indoor facility, we have stainless steel grates, we had to have those manufactured and those will be in place within 21 days," she said.

Columbus Recreation and Parks has not made any changes to its ten pools just yet - the department plans to do it after the summer season.

Columbus' Recreation and Parks director Alan McKnight seems to think most of the city's pool grates will meet the law's standards - they just need to be checked out.

"The grates need to be stamped as certified and that our grates will probably qualify as certified they're just not stamped appropriately. But we have an engineer under contract and we will be making some additional changes after the season this year," McKnight said.

Columbus only has four pools open this summer. No grates have been changed in those pools. McKnight said they're not hazardous to swimmers.

"Our grates, no, we do not create the entrapment hazards, no," he said. McKnight anticipates the modifications will cost up to $100,000.

Officials at Hilliard and Grandview pools say their drain covers have already been changed.

Although the conversions were supposed to have been made by the end of 2008, many public pools still have the old drains. Which begs the question: who's enforcing this law?

Congress tapped the Consumer Product Safety Commission with the task, but the department said it does not have enough staff members to check the more than 600,000 public pools around the country. The CPSC's Kathleen Reilly said that's why the commission has asked state agencies for help.

"Now state attorney generals and that would generally mean departments through the attorney general's office departments of health, departments of environment, departments of sanitation are authorized to enforce it but they're not required to. (So basically no one has to enforce it. At least not at the state level.) No, you're right. They don't have to," Reilly said.

A spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General's office says it does not handle pool safety. And the Ohio Department of Health's Kristopher Weiss said the ODH is not checking to make sure public pools are in compliance with the law. But Weiss said the department did send out at letter to Ohio's pool operators last fall regarding the requirements.

"We have also reminded our partners at local health departments to ask operators what steps they have taken and are taking to become compliant," he said.

Columbus Public Health tests local pools for water quality and other safety measures. A request for an interview on what if any role the department play in enforcing the new law was not filled in time for broadcast.

Back at the Dublin pool, Pam Peck was asked what she thinks about no one enforcing the compliance.

"I think it's a shame. I do. I think they should consider the families, especially for the legalities of it. I think it would be a safe thing to do for that," Peck said.