Mister Rogers was wrong; children can go down the drain


Fred Rogers soothed the fears of several generations of children by explaining why they cannot go down the drain. Mister Rogers was thinking of the bathtub drain, which relies on gravity to empty the tub. Evidently there was no swimming pool in his Neighborhood, certainly not one that relied on a powerful filter system to pull water from the pool.

From 1997-2007, 9 children died after become entrapped in pool drains, and an additional 63 were injured, some grievously. Abigail Taylor, 6 years old, died almost exactly one year ago. In June of the previous summer, Abbey had been playing in the wading pool at the Minneapolis Golf Club when she sat on the wading pool drain. The pool suction was so powerful that it literally disemboweled her, tearing out a large part of her intestinal tract.

According to TwinCities.com:

She survived the initial incident, but the weeks and months that followed were filled with surgeries to try to repair her damaged internal organs…

Abbey got her nutrition through a tube, but that created its own problems. The formula damaged her liver, requiring an organ transplant.

In December, she received a new liver, small bowel and pancreas. There were complications from the surgery, though, including raging infections and a transplant-related cancer that required her to endure chemotherapy.

The accident did not have to happen. Had the wading pool been properly fitted with an anti-entrapment drain cover, Abbey would not have been harmed.

In December 2007, Congress passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Act, named in memory of the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker III. In 2002, the 7 year old girl known as Graeme was entrapped by the drain of a hot tub at a friend’s house and drowned. Her mother tried to save her, but literally could not break the force of the suction holding her to the bottom of the hot tub. It took two men, who broke the drain itself, to remove the little girl from the grip of the suction.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Act required that drains in all public pools and spas be retrofitted with anti-entrapment covers. However, three months after the deadline, approximately 70% of public pools and spas have not undertaken the repair. According to the New York Times:

One reason compliance has been slow is … the safety commission didn’t issue final regulations until just six months before [the law] took effect. Lachocki [head of the National Swimming Pool Foundation] said that left little time for manufacturers to design and ramp up production of drain covers and pumps that meet the new specifications, or for pool owners to line up contractors. He said many pool owners and local authorities are still confused.

But the Pool Safety Council says the equipment is getting easier to find. Spokesman John Procter said the group recently surveyed manufacturers and found they’re catching up. And while the industry cites costs of $10,000 to $15,000 to retrofit some pools, he said most can be fixed for $1,000 to $1,500.

How can parents protect their children?

…The main sign of a faulty drain or drain cover is a continuous swirl of water created by a drain indicating excessive suction. Keep your children away from such whirlpools…

Refuse to swim in pools that do not meet safety standards. Never allow children to swim or sit in a Jacuzzi or spa tub that has not had the drains and their covers safety inspected…

Mister Rogers was right when he declared that children cannot go down the drain completely. He did not realize that they don’t have to go down the drain completely in order to be harmed and that what applies to the bathtub might not apply to the local pool. The deaths and injuries caused by pool drain entrapment cannot be undone, but there is every reason to believe that we can prevent further deaths and injuries. If parents watch for signs of faulty drains, and demand that public pool owners comply with Federal standards, the terrible tragedies suffered by Abbey Taylor and Graeme Baker will not have been in vain.