One of the states most active in implementing federal safety measures may allow pools to open this season regardless of whether they comply with the law.
Illinois Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) has introduced House Bill 3890, which would provide temporary relief to public and semipublic facilities that have shown good faith in moving toward compliance with the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, but have been held up by bureaucratic or financial roadblocks.
“While I understand the reason behind the law, it’s a mandate on local governments that some just have not been able to meet,” Barickman said. “...This bill was an effort to give those communities more time to be in compliance.”
At the moment, more than 250 public vessels are prevented from opening because they remain in violation of VGB and a related state law, the Illinois Swimming Facility Act. However, many have submitted plans for approval and are awaiting the go-ahead to begin making repairs. If passed, HB 3890 would grant those facilities a reprieve until October 2012, provided operators had filed permit requests prior to last October. As of press time, it was in committee.
Overall, Illinois has been overwhelmingly supportive of VGB. It was U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.), who called for an investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that led to last year’s massive drain cover recall.
And state lawmakers passed the ISFA in 2010, prompting public health officials to begin enforcing anti-entrapment provisions. The state public health department also made news last year when it ordered 530 pools and spas closed after they missed the ISFA deadline.
“The department sought to allow its many noncompliant licensees sufficient time to become compliant,” said Sabrina Miller, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Subsequently, [the public health department] determined that it needed to establish a clear deadline to prevent a small number of remaining noncompliant facilities from continuing to operate in violation.”
The latest measure underscores an issue that has frustrated operators nationwide — the pace at which public health officials have processed permit requests for VGBA-related fixes.
In the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, Ill., the Highland Park Hospital Health and Fitness Center has waited several months for the state to approve repair plans for two whirlpool baths, out of operation since last fall. As a result, the club has lost nearly a dozen members, most of them seniors who couldn’t prolong their therapy any further.
“We all understand the work that needs to be done,” fitness manager David Wischmeyer said. “There’s just frustration with the length of time it’s taken. … Right now we’re just waiting on the state to come back and approve the work.”
Meanwhile, CPSC officials continue to promote a zero-tolerance approach toward noncompliance. Inez Tenenbaum, CPSC chairwoman since June 2009, has reiterated that all public facilities in violation of the law risk immediate closure, regardless of the reasons for delay.