Pop the champagne and start counting down, 2010 is almost over and it’s time to start looking ahead. While high temperatures and record attendance had many pool operators cheering, several negative aquatics-related stories made big headlines that have been anything but cause for celebration.
It started last spring when a lawsuit was filed against USA Swimming on behalf of a teenage girl from Northern California. The lawsuit claims the girl was sexually abused by her coach Andrew King (now serving 40 years in prison for molesting a number of young swimmers over the past several decades) and accuses USA Swimming of virtually ignoring a “culture of abuse” among coaches.
In early August, an Associated Press article featured the parents of two entrapment victims who stated that the industry was working to weaken the VGB Act. Nancy Baker, mother of Virginia Graeme Baker, and Karen Cohn, mother of Zachary Archer Cohn, discussed their drowning prevention advocacy.
Cohn expressed discontent with VGB’s implementation, specifically the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s March interpretation of the law regarding unblockable drains. The agency voted to classify certain drains as unblockable regardless of sump size. A pool with an unblockable drain is not required to have a backup device such a safety vacuum release system.
“The laws are trying to be rolled back by the pool industry,” Cohn told AP, “and we really want to make sure that we’re here to protect the children.”
That decision also sparked protest from nine members of the House and Senate, including the law’s author,Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).
Also in August, ABC News published a story stating that it had obtained a confidential industry study that “warns that popular drain covers found in millions of backyard and public US pools have been incorrectly tested and that their use could ‘result in serious injury or deaths.’” As a result, an investigation by CPSC is ongoing.
In September, news coverage turned to texting lifeguards and cancer. Several stories, including a piece in The New York Times, investigated the issue of lifeguards seen sending text messages on the job. A number of stories quoted Bernard J. Fisher II, director of health and safety for the American Lifeguard Association who indicated that he’s seen a sharp increase in complaints about the issue. The ALA is a privately owned educational association that provides training.
Toward the end of the month, a number of news outlets reported on a series of studies on swimming pool disinfection byproducts and their effect on health. Although more research is needed, headlines highlighted links to cancer and respiratory issues.
“The reality is, bad press should be expected since people can and do become injured or die when they are using our products; we as an industry still have a lot to learn to resolve some of the critical issues that plague us,” said Laurie Batter, a longtime industry public relations leader and founder of BatterUp! Productions. “Providing consumers with a balanced approach to the problem and the solution is the best way to keep people from being afraid and staying away. We will invite and create more positive messaging if everyone in our industry reaches for the highest standards, takes personal responsibility and is invested personally in doing so.”