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Here at the Pool Safety Council, we came across quite a few stories this summer about public pools and spas failing to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB). The act is a federal regulation mandating that all public pools and spas — e.g., those at community and neighborhood pools, YMCAs, country clubs and hotels — install approved safety drain covers, and all single drain public pools also install an anti-entrapment device, such as a safety vacuum release system. A compliant cover is domed, rather than flat, which helps to prevent the potentially fatal entrapment that can occur as a result of up to 800 pounds of force that can be generated by the drain.

At least a dozen entrapment-related deaths or serious injuries have been reported since the VGB Act went into effect in December, calling into question the commitment of public pool and spa owners to enforce federally mandated regulations. A recent investigative piece featured on the TODAY Show revealed that thousands of pools across the country remained open and non-compliant, despite the fact that VGB went into effect nearly a year ago — some counties had compliance failure rates as high as 90 percent.

The question becomes, then, why?

The owners and operators of public pools and spas cite a lack of enforcement as the reason why they have not modified their pools with VGB-compliant equipment. On average, most pools and spas can be brought into compliance with the law for a cost of around $1,500. A full year elapsed between the time when VGB was passed and when compliance was required. This transitional "grace period" for pool and spa owners has long passed; the law requires immediate compliance. Still, many claim that the Consumer Product Safety Commission — the government oversight body under whose jurisdiction VGB falls — has done little to enforce the law.

Those in doubt should start checking with pool and spa owners in Ohio.

In a letter dated September 11, 2009, William Dewgard, a CPSC compliance officer, sent a letter to six Ohio public pools, instructing the owners to:

immediately stop operating the pool or spa until it can be brought into compliance with the VGBA. … Please respond in writing within 10 working days … . [original emphasis]

Until this matter is resolved, there will remain a possibility of further action, including reasonably anticipated litigation.

This letter should leave no doubt that the CPSC has started aggressively pursuing enforcement. The agency and its new leadership should be applauded for their efforts. Letters like these clearly delineate the consequences that non-compliant pool and spa owners face for inaction and are vital in ensuring 100% compliance.

Pool and spa owners should urgently take the steps necessary to comply with VGB. There remains little doubt over the fate of those who fail to do so.

To learn how you can make your pool VGB compliant, visit the Pool Safety Council.

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