Aquatics professionals were left scrambling in the wake of a pre-Memorial Day weekend federal recall of approximately 1 million drain covers — and wondering about timing and cost of the action. The far-reaching recall, the largest in industry history, includes product from 10 different manufacturers.
The action affected “hundreds of thousands of pools,” said Scott Wolfson, public affairs director for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which initiated the voluntary recall. However, Wolfson said, “voluntary does not mean optional.”
Replacements or retrofits are mandatory on wading pools, kiddie pools and spas. Also affected are single-drain pools that do not have an unblockable drain, gravity feed system or drain covers installed before Dec. 19, 2008. CPSC is advising that those facilities be closed until retrofits or replacements can be made.
But confusion over which pools are affected apparently led some cities to close all pools over the busy Memorial Day weekend. For example, Jacksonville, Fla., delayed opening pools on the holiday weekend over concern for the recall. Many such pools were later opened.
However, some locations are enacting the recall further than its intended scope. An official with the Texas Health Department announced that all recalled drain covers in the state are to be replaced, even those installed in dual-drain pools, which are exempt from the requirement.
Connecticut’s health department also sent out a memo directing its municipal pool operators to observe the recall, but not outlining enforcement or deadlines.
The official recall states that pools deeper than 24 inches with multiple-drain systems are not required to change out drain cover.
“Months of scientific research and investigative work went into determining that a recall was needed and determining which pools and spas were most at risk of posing an entrapment hazard to swimmers,” Wolfson said.
Depending on the model, recalls could involve replacement — of just the cover or the entire drain assembly — or repair, which could be as simple as snapping a new piece onto an existing drain cover, as with Waterway Plastics’ retrofit.
The investigation came about after NSF International, one independent testing laboratory certified to test product and certify it as complying with the VGBA, claimed it had tested some covers approved and rated by fellow lab International Association of Mechanical Plumbing Officials and found that the products did not perform as claimed. CPSC was directed to investigate the allegations.
As a result, certain drain-cover models from the following manufacturers are part of the recall: A&A Manufacturing, AquaStar Pool Products, Color Match Pool Fittings, Custom Molded Products, Hayward Pool Products, Pentair Water Pool and Spa, Rising Dragon Plastics and Waterway Plastics.
Drain covers from Lawson Aquatics and Paramount Pool and Spa Systems also were included in the recall. However, those manufacturers are “carrying out a corrective action program” and are working directly with the customers affected, Wolfson said. Links to manufacturers’ recall Web pages as well as other recall information can be found at aquaticsintl.com/recall.
The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals is acting as a spokesperson for seven of the eight manufacturers directly involved. The companies working with the organization declined to comment for this story.
CPSC said most manufacturers will pay for parts and labor, but each has its own process, usually involving several steps. Additionally, CPSC recommends that all professionals, whether installers performing the repairs or the manufacturers providing the product, should keep records of every drain cover replaced, along with the pool or spa type, flow rating and model of the existing drain cover. CPSC will be monitoring the recall and could ask for records at any time, the agency warned.
But some industry professionals say they’re still waiting on information to determine exactly what needs to be done to fulfill obligations and comply with the recall — and who will pay for work that may have to be done.
“We’re hoping for better direction from CPSC and manufacturers. They put out the alarm and we’re all saying, ‘but now what?’” said Daryl Matzke, vice president/ director of aquatics for Ramaker & Associates in Sauk City, Wis.
Those with a recalled cover have been directed to contact the manufacturer to receive a replacement or retrofit. However, it appears that some manufacturers have the parts necessary to make retrofits or replacements, while others are still ramping up production. Wolfson admitted getting those parts and the labor necessary to install them will be major hurdles.
Reaction from operators has been mixed, and some have closed their affected pools.
One of our pools was affected,” said Joe Fabick, aquatic supervisor, City of Dublin (Ohio) Recreation Services. “We were not able to open it Memorial Day weekend and are still waiting on the replacement covers.”
Kathy Fisher closed the spa at her facility when she discovered it included a recalled cover. “We have ordered the replacement covers directly. It was not easy getting through to [the manufacturer], but when I was eventually able to reach someone, I was able to place the order,” said Fisher, aquatic director, West Morris (N.J.) Area YMCA. “The parts … still need to be fabricated. [The manufacturer] claims they are four weeks out. They will also reimburse us (up to a certain amount) to have them installed and documented safe and compliant by a reputable pool service professional.”
Fisher added that nationwide most YMCA pools will remain open and “closing pools will be determined on a facility by facility basis.”
As in Ohio and New Jersey, pools in Raleigh, N.C., are also caught in the recall, but they have not been closed.
“When we got the information about the recall, we also got an email and letter from the state and local health departments. They said they would get back to us, but our permits were still valid to operate pools,” said Terri Stroupe, aquatic facilities & program director, City of Raleigh Parks & Recreation Department.
However, Stroupe added that per the North Carolina health code, all facilities must be dual drain and the recall doesn’t pertain to dual drain pools.
Still, “it’s frustrating,” she said. “If we are all working together toward safety they should have given us a head’s up that this was coming. According to the [CPSC] press release, the manufacturers have retrofits available, so they knew about it.”
Operators who are still unsure if their pool has a recalled cover should review their records, suggested Wolfson. An alternative option is to contact the service company that installed the covers. They should then immediately contact the manufacturer to schedule replacement or retrofit.
Beyond whether or not replacement parts are available, is the question of who is going to perform the work of installing new covers. Wolfson said affected manufacturers are establishing which service companies are approved to carry out the work.
Another question is exactly what will be paid for. According to APSP, manufacturers will provide “reasonable compensation” for the replacement of recalled drain covers, but what qualifies as reasonable compensation is unclear. “That is a decision left between the individual who has a recalled drain cover and the manufacturer,” said Carvin DiGiovanni, APSP senior director, standards and government relations.
Some worry that could leave some operators footing the bill for major repairs.
The recall has received nationwide media attention and prompted one state attorney general to issue a warning to consumers.
“I strongly encourage parents to call their local pool operators to ask two very important questions — if the pool contains one of these dangerous drains and whether the facility complies with safety standards,” said Illinois State Attorney General Lisa Madigan in a public statement.
For it’s part, “CPSC views this as a very significant announcement,” Wolfson said. “There is a zero death rate for children in recent years related to drain entrapments. We want to keep it that way.”
The agency has set up a Drain Cover Recall Hotline at 866.478.3521 and a dedicated Web page: www.apsp.org/draincoverrecall, and as of press time, additional FAQs were forthcoming.
Rebecca Robledo contributed reporting to this article.