Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.

At this point, I’m as sick of writing those words as you probably are of reading them. But write we must, because after more than three years, this law is still plaguing aquatics.

At best, this latest issue makes professionals look like they don’t know what they’re doing. At worst, it makes them look like they put profit before safety. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the gray middle. But major newspapers and media outlets are all too happy to make hay with the black and white details.

They are not pretty. Put simply, concerns have arisen about the safety of VGB-approved safety drain covers because of questionable testing methods used by one or more labs to approve them. That’s an oversimplification. To get all of the details, I encourage you to turn to our latest news story on the subject.

These questionable testing methods have left the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which as you no doubt know by now is charged with enforcing and interpreting VGB, with the unenviable decision about how to handle it all. It could be a slap on the wrist, or it could be a full-scale recall.

Either way, the industry comes out looking bad.

Things don’t look to be getting much better, either. The group responsible for current testing language is busily working to shore it up, though it seems unclear and uncertain exactly how to do that. Meanwhile, a new standard is being written to replace the old one. And this is where it gets really sticky. One of the agencies attached to the new standard is the same one at the heart of the controversy swirling around safety drain covers. That agency is the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. Among other things, the CPSC investigation has resulted in accusations against IAPMO of engaging in questionable methods and ethics. Now it is working with the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals on a replacement standard?

Just wait until the national media get hold of that!

From the start the VGB has been a mess. Manufacturers only had six months to get a product to market. And the law’s language has been interpreted and reinterpreted ad infinitum. But that mess has only been exacerbated by a system that lets professionals with business conflicts of interest write standards. I know many of these members have the best intentions, and it’s wise to have their input. But the industry can’t afford even the appearance of impropriety.

Until impartial members are a bigger part of these groups, I fear VGB-related controversies will continue to batter the industry. And you, the operator, will continue to have to clean up the messes, whether it’s in the form of replacing drain covers in a recall or explaining to a worried patron why your pool really is safe. Let’s examine VGB standard writing groups. If they all have conflicts of interest, or even a perceived conflict, balance them with impartial members. You deserve a system that puts safety first, and so does the swimming public.

The choice is clear: We can clean up VGB now, or more messes later.