Watch CBSN Live

Deadly Drains in Public Pools

Thousands of public pools may be putting your kids at risk this summer, because they're violating a new federal safety rule.

The National Swimming Pool Foundation estimates that half of all 300,000 public pools, in places such as parks, hotels, schools and camps, have failed to install new anti-entrapment devices aimed at keeping children from getting stuck in the drains.

"Early Show" consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen reported Thursday that drains present hidden hazards in both pools and spas. And they can be deadly. A drain in a hot tub is what killed 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker in 2002. The force was so strong, Koeppen reported, two grown men couldn't pull her free from the drain's powerful suction.

But now, new safety standards have been put in place to keep swimmers, especially children from getting trapped. But many pools and spas across the country have yet to comply with the law.

George Pellington of The Pool Safety Council said he has no doubts that many pools still use the unsafe drain covers, which he calls "death traps."

"I've seen them myself," he said.

But what makes the drains so dangerous?

Pellington said because the drains are so flat.

He said, "A body can actually seal off these covers and large forces on the order of 500 to 700 pounds could hold the bather down to the drain."

Pellington said if a child would get stuck in a drain with that much force, there's no way for parents to dislodge the child.

He told Koeppen, "The strongest person in the world would not be able to do this."

However, the new drain covers make it much harder for a swimmer to get trapped. Pellington told Koeppen parents want to see if the drain covers at public pools and spas have a cover that has a dome or pyramidal shape. With this shape, Pellington demonstrated on "The Early Show," nothing can stick to the cover.

But Pellington told Koeppen, there isn't enough enforcement of this law.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is in charge of enforcing the law.

Koeppen remarked that it sounds like a great law, but it doesn't seem like there's enough manpower behind it to check and make sure everyone is complying.

CPSC spokesperson Scott Wolfson told Koeppen, "This is the start. This is an ongoing effort to bring all the public pools into code, into a safer place so that parents have more confidence when kids dive into a pool."

However, Koeppen observed, the responsibility falls on the parent to check the pool's drains.

"The obligation starts with the CPSC," Wolfson said. "...We want every pool to be compliant. It's the law, but it's going to be an effort beyond the CPSC."

Pools can face fines and closure if they're not up to code, according to the CPSC. But many pools are open and operating this summer with the dangerous flat covers still fixed in place.

"Worst-case scenario," Pellington said, "is an accident occurs and a child or an adult is injured -- maybe even killed...We just don't want that to happen."

"Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez asked Koeppen for more information about dangerous drain covers:

Why aren't all pools up to code? What's the delay?

Some pool owners say it's a cost factor. You have to hire divers to go down and put in the covers. A lack of supply of new covers. And some say they didn't know about the new law. This law is just for public pools and does not pertain to residential pools. In fact, in Pembroke Pines, Fla., a 5-year-old boy was trapped by one of these drains and had to be rescued by the police

If this happens at your home, what I am about to tell you could save your loved ones lives: You have to turn off the pump for the pool and break the suction by putting your arm between the drain and the child and roll them off.

You checked your kids' pool, but you also did some spot checks at pools in the New York City area. What did you find?

We found pools with old drain covers -- not the new ones. The CPSC says if you don't have the time or money to change the covers, OK, but you can't be open. Close down your pool until you change the covers.

View CBS News In