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New rules allow state to shut down public swimming pools

A North Carolina health board on Wednesday adopted rules that will soon give local health departments and others the authority to close public swimming pools with drains that don’t meet certain safety requirements.

The N.C. Commission for Public Health adopted amendments to the “North Carolina Rules Governing Public Swimming Pools.” The new amendments, which take effect May 1, will enable local health departments to enforce federal pool drain requirements established under the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act of 2007.

The federal pool drain requirements established new design and construction standards to prevent bather entrapment on submerged suction outlets and required all public pools nationwide to install the new safety drains by Dec. 19, 2008.

“The federal law identified new safety measures but lacked sufficient enforcement provisions for state regulatory agencies to assure compliance,” said Jim Hayes, head of the Public Swimming Pool Program in the N.C. Division of Environmental Health. “The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission relies on the states for enforcement of the act.”

The state amendments adopted Wednesday will require drains smaller than 18-inches-by-23-inches to have raised covers to prevent people from becoming trapped in the bottom of the pool. This measure adds to the state’s previous rules aimed at preventing people from becoming trapped or getting their hair caught on pool drains.

Under the new rules, state and local health authorities can close public swimming pools that do not meet the new drain requirements starting May 1.

“Despite efforts to inform pool owners of these requirements, it is anticipated that there will be more than the usual number of pool closures this summer as some pools have not yet complied,” Hayes said.

The state rule requires pool owners to prove that new drain covers meet the national standard, are installed in compliance with manufacturer’s instructions and sized to handle the pump flow safely when one drain is completely blocked. This will apply to all public pools regardless of when they were constructed.

The new rule amendments apply only to public swimming pools. The N.C. Division of Environmental Health does not regulate residential swimming pools.

Additional information is available on the Division of Environmental Health’s Web site at: http://www.deh.enr.state.nc.us/ehs/pti_DrainSafetyCompliance.html. For more information, contact Hayes at (919) 715-0924 or send him an e-mail at jim.hayes@ncdenr.gov.