Several months after the new head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission warned against noncompliance with the Pool and Spa Safety Act, the agency has officially begun nationwide compliance, and may be stepping up its enforcement efforts.

CPSC field representatives conducted inspections over the summer said Kathleen Reilly, public affairs specialist for the agency. She added that “feedback from our field representatives shows an 80 percent compliance rate.” Letters of noncompliance have been sent to pools found not in compliance.

She would not be specific about any new measures that have been taken since Inez Tenebaum took over as head of the CPSC in July and pledged to strictly enforce the law. But a current of concern has rippled through the aquatics community ever since the CPSC began issuing letters of noncompliance.

Aquatics International obtained a copy of one of the letters. It states:

“Operating a pool or spa that does not comply with the requirements mandated by the VGBA is a violation of Section 1404 (c)(1)(A)(ii) and shall be considered a Prohibited Act … As a result, you and the pool or spa owner could be subject to fines of $100,000 for each violation up to a maximum of $15 million for any related series of violations, imprisonment for not more than five (5) years, and/or forfeiture of assets …”

Further, the letter requests that the manager of the noncompliant pool or spa cease operation “until it can be brought into compliance with the VGBA,” and respond within 10 working days with an action plan to address the violation. 

The tone of the letter — and the implied threat of fines or jail — runs counter to previous statements from CPSC officials that they were focused on helping operators to comply, not fining or jailing them.

“Communications from CPSC personnel in the past suggested that the CPSC would not try and throw the local pool guy into jail. The letter reinforces the Commission may pursue maximum penalties if it so chooses,” said Tom Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation. He added that “many of the technical hurdles to compliance have diminished” and said “noncompliant operators who can comply should do so promptly.”

Lachocki went on to echo concerns of other aquatic leaders related to VGB: “Let’s hope this enforcement effort does not cause safe pools — that are not compliant — to close increasing the risk of drowning due to fewer swim lessons.”

Looking ahead, Reilly said the agency is pleased with the response so far but “CPSC will conduct ongoing inspections and follow up when necessary.”    

“We are continuing to educate stakeholders and enforce this law in order to bring all public pools and spas into compliance,” she added. “Chairman Tenenbaum has made it clear that all public pools and spas not in compliance by now … should be closed.”