390 children drown in U.S. pools each year, report finds

Story and photos by Silvia Rodriguez

Originally published in the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.

Also in ABC Action News and ABC-WCPO.

Paying tribute to 390 annual drowning deaths among children, 390 swimming goggles float in the kiddie pool at Washington’s William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center. All public pools in Washington comply with the federal law regulating drain safety. SHFWire photo by Silvia Rodriguez

WASHINGTON – An average of 390 children drown each year in the U.S., most younger than 5, according to two new reports.

“We are talking about 15 pre-school classes lost in a pool or spa every year. This is a national health and safety problem that we must work to get fixed,” Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said.

The 2013 drowning andentrapment reports were released Wednesday at a press conference at theWilliam H. Rumsey Aquatic Center by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission during the “First Splash” event sponsored by the Pool Safely campaign.

Approximately 5,100 pool or spa-related injuries occur each year involving children younger than 15. Some of those injured require life-long medical care, resulting in millions of dollars in medical costs, Tenenbaum said.

The report also revealed that from 2008 to 2012, there were 39 victims of circulation entrapments, two of them fatal. Circulation entrapment occurs when a person gets stuck by the force of the water rushing through drains at the bottom of pools. Three-fourths of those trapped were under 16.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., speaks Wednesday about swimming pool safety, a cause she has worked on since the late 1990s, when she first joined the National Safety Council Board in Florida. At right is Suzy DeFrancis of the American Red Cross. SHFWire photo by Silvia Rodriguez.

“Minority populations between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children in the same age range,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said, citing statistics compiled by U.S.A. Swimming from media reports.

The same report found that 70 percent of African-American children and 60 percent of Hispanic children do not know how to swim. Forty percent of white children do not know how to swim.

Tenenbaum cited the lack of access minority groups have to swimming lessons as the problem.

Wasserman Schultz sponsored the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which became law in 2007, making it the first federal pool and spa safety law. The law established a federal swimming pool and spa drain cover standard and other safety measures for pools nationwide.

Last year, Florida, Texas and California had the highest number of pool and spa deaths in children up to age 14, according to the U.S. Swimming report.

Organizations such as the Red Cross, YMCA, Abbey’s Hope and the Josh Project provide free or low-cost swimming lessons to parents and children nationwide.

“Our overall goal is to reduce the number of child drowning across the country by training children to swim and educating parents on the critical importance of supervising children in and near the water,” Wasserman Schultz said.


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