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Little-Known Hazard On Pool Floors

Former Secretary of State James Baker will be on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to push legislation designed to cut down on the number of drowning deaths of children in swimming pools and spas.

The legislation offers incentive grants to states that pass laws requiring safeguards to prevent drowning and the entrapment or entanglement of kids in pool and spa drains.

Baker will speak publicly Tuesday for the first time about the accidental death of his 7-year old-granddaughter, Virginia Graeme Baker, who drowned four years ago at a backyard pool party when she became trapped by the powerful drain suction in a hot tub.

Virginia's mother, Nancy Baker, will also talk about the tragedy and what can be done to prevent similar pool and spa related deaths.

On The Early Show Tuesday, Baker told co-anchor Julie Chen about the day Graeme, as they called her, died.

"I jumped in, and pulled and pulled and pulled, and I couldn't remove her. I thought at the time that she'd been murdered, that she was wired down. I'd never heard of entrapment. ... i accept her death. I don't accept the circumstances."

Baker

with Dr. Martin Eichelberger, President and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations whose mission it is to prevent accidental injuries to children 14 and under. Eichelberger is also a pediatric surgeon and director of Emergency Trauma and Burn Services at Children's National Medical Center in Washington.

"If you understand that, just in the last two weeks, we've had eight children die in the United States, we understand this is a significant problem," Eichelberger stressed. "Entrapment is part of the overall drowning problem. Entrapment is that point where a child can actually get stuck on the (filtration system) drain, and it's so forceful that you can't actually pull the child off. … A grown man can't pull -- the suction is 400 to 500 pounds of pressure. So it's a relatively important thing for parents to understand, that there's something that we can do to prevent these injuries from occurring."

Entrapment can also occur when a child's hair or swimsuit gets tangled in the drain or on an underwater object, such as a ladder.

Only four states, California, Arizona, Oregon and Florida, have laws to ensure safety at pools, requiring fencing to enclose the pool area.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., provides incentive grants for states that make pool and spa safety mandatory. It requires five layers of protection, as opposed to one in the four states with such laws. The layers include a wall, fence or barrier that entirely encloses the pool; self-closing and self-latching gates for any walls, fences or barriers; a drain system that contains two suction outlets per pump; an anti-entrapment safety suction outlet drain cover; and a safety vacuum release system.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental injury-related death among children ages 1-14, but only 34 percent of parents know it, and 29 percent aren't at all familiar with entanglement and entrapment risks. Also, 55 percent of pool- and spa-owning parents aren't at all or are only somewhat informed about how to ensure drain safety.

From 1985 to 2004, at least 33 children under the age of 14 died as a result of entrapment in pool or spa.

Some tips to prevent drowning and entrapment:

  • Warn children about the dangers of drain entanglement and entrapment.
  • Install protection to prevent entrapment if you own a pool or spa; this can include anti-entrapment drain covers, multiple drains in new construction, and a device to automatically release the suction and shut down the pump should entrapment occur.
  • Provide fencing around all sides of pool and a self-closing, self-latching gate. In addition, cover and lock spas when they're not in use.
  • Tie up long hair securely so it won't get caught in a pool or spa drain.
  • Install a door alarm, a window alarm, or both on the side of the house facing the pool or spa.
  • Actively supervise your children around water, and have a phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.
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