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Precautions can minimize risk of pool drowning

March 28, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

Drownings in murky pools in Southern California in recent years have raised concerns among safety experts.

Last week three people in the region died under the cloudy water of dirty backyard pools.

Two cousins in Garden Grove, an 18-month-old girl and a 2 1/2 -year-old boy, were found drowning in a murky backyard pool Wednesday by their mothers, who had lost track of them for 15 minutes, authorities said. The children later died.

Pedro Esteban Chavez, 22, was found dead Thursday afternoon in a residential pool in the Riverside County city of Perris.

Chavez was missing for about a week after attending a party before friends thought to check the pool, said Riverside County Sheriff's Investigator Jerry Franchville.

"It was so murky and dirty that you couldn't see into the pool," Franchville said. "And that's where they found his body."

In 2002, the body of a 7-year-old boy was found at the bottom of a swimming pool in Holmby Hills after a two-day search that included about 50 Los Angeles Police Department officers, bloodhounds and a helicopter.

The boy disappeared while attending a party, but police never checked the pool, which they described as chalky and murky.

A housekeeper discovered the body after a pool cleaner poured chemicals into the pool and the water cleared.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,306 people died from drowning in 2003, an average of nine people a day.

Among children ages 1 to 4, most drownings occur in residential pools.

Although the nation's drowning rate has declined slowly, it remains the second-leading cause of injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14, the agency reported.

A California law that went into effect Jan. 1 requires new or remodeled pools and spas to include anti-entrapment drain covers and requires that one of seven anti-drowning features be in place.

It bolsters a previous law by adding two new anti-drowning features to that list. Pool owners now have the option of placing a removable mesh fence around the pool surface or installing an alarm that sounds when someone accidentally enters the water.

But pools continue to be dangerous, experts said.

Why do so many children die in pools?

"People don't realize that a beautiful facility that people love to enjoy is a hostile environment," said John Hanst, a recreational hazards forensics expert from Green Village, N.J.

A slip or fall into a pool can quickly turn into a fatal accident, said Michelle Feczko, health and wellness coordinator for Children's Hospital of Orange County.

"Kids can lose consciousness in 30 seconds or less, suffer irreparable brain damage in four to six minutes and brain death in 10," she said.

What should families do to make backyard pools safer?

Apply several layers of security, said Mark Ross, public affairs specialist at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington.

Install barriers. A four-sided fence that is at least 4 feet high with slats that are less than 4 inches apart is one key barrier. The gates should be self-closing and self-latching, and a child should not be able to reach the latch.

Supervise. No barriers replace supervision. Always watch children in the water. If a pool is in the vicinity and a child is missing, check the pool first.

Prepare for an emergency. Have a cordless phone, emergency numbers, a first-aid kit and rescue equipment near the pool.

Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid.

What should swimmers do during cold and inclement weather?

The American Red Cross advises swimmers to get out of the pool when they see storm clouds or hear thunder.

In cold weather, when pools are unlikely to be used, owners should clean the water and cover the pool to reduce the risk of an accident.

What pool rules should children follow?

Children should always swim with a buddy. In addition, they should never do the following:

Run near the pool.

Push or jump on others in the water.

Dive or jump into shallow water.

How safe are the inflatable toys that children use in swimming pools?

"As with any toy, inflatable ones for the pool can be very dangerous and should be used under strict supervision," said Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's one thing to play with an inflatable toy in the living room, but it's another to play with it in a hazardous environment," Gilchrist said.

Inflatable toys should never be considered a replacement for an age-appropriate, approved personal flotation device.

How else can families maintain safe pools?

Keep pool water clean to maintain water clarity, Hanst said.

"The water should be clear enough to see the bottom. If you let the water quality go down, if you were to fall in, no one could see you."



Swimming pool safety


California's swimming pool safety law is aimed at protecting children from drowning in swimming pools. As of Jan. 1, new or remodeled pools and spas must be equipped with an anti-entrapment drain cover and at least one of a list of other safety features, including:

Exit alarms on doors that lead directly to the pool.


Self-closing, self-latching devices with a release mechanism placed no lower than 54 inches from the floor on doors that lead directly to the pool.--

An enclosure blocking access to the pool from the house. It must have:

An access gate that opens away from the pool, is self-closing andhas a release latch at least 5 feet high.


No more than 2 inches of vertical clearance from the ground to the bottom of the enclosure.


No gaps of 4 inches or more.


An approved safety pool cover


A height of at least 5 feet and an outside surface free of hand holds or footholds.

Source: State of California

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