More than half of Mesa’s public kiddie wading pools have outdated drain covers that can trap or kill children.
The city racked up violations in the latest Maricopa County pool inspections for not having the new "antivortex" safety covers — even though the covers are backlogged at suppliers and hard to come by.
Mesa finally got one this week only to find it didn’t fit existing pool drains.
"Until you see a disemboweled child, you don’t think it’s a big deal," said Chris Reimus, county pool inspector.
Although the covers cost only about $30 apiece, Mesa has decided to dig up and replace the drains on five wading pools found in violation of the code rather than wait for covers to become available. The work will be done in November.
The pools closed for the season on Aug. 1.
"You think it would be simple enough just to replace the drain cover," said Darla Armfield, Mesa’s recreation supervisor.
The covers — required by county code in public pools since May 2004 — are domeshaped, flat on top and draw water through elevated sides. Traditional drain covers draw water through the top, potentially sucking children, hair or jewelry to the bottom of the pool. Children who sit directly on the drain can be disemboweled because the suction is strong enough to pull out their intestines.
Between January 1990 and August 2004, there were two incidents of evisceration/ disembowelment nationally from children sitting on unsafe drains, according to a March U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report. The report also says there were 43 hair entrapments nationally, resulting in 12 deaths. Of those incidents, 38 occurred in spas or hot tubs and five occurred in a pool. Most incidents — more than 90 percent — involved children under 15.
Because injuries are rare and the drain covers aren’t readily available, the pools don’t face immediate permanent closure or legal action, Reimus said. Mesa had the most drain cover violations because it has some of the oldest pools in the East Valley. Gilbert Community Pool and Clark Park in Tempe each had one wading pool drain cover violation.
Since Mesa pools began operating in the 1940s, there have been no incidents of entrapment or disembowelment, Armfield said.
The city has installed a vacuum switch on the wading pool pump at Powell Junior High Pool, which turns off the pump if blockage is detected, Armfield said.
"It works wonderfully," she said. "But we are still being written up because the code specifies ‘anti-vortex drain covers,’ not ‘other safety means.’ "
The code was adopted to reflect a national trend in pool safety that requires anti-vortex covers. It is the same as the state code. The county has to be as strict, or stricter, than the state.
"I don’t think (the state) researched pools’ operations carefully when they adopted (the codes)," Armfield said.
Armfield said that renovations of pools will eventually phase out the wading pools by linking them with deeper pools. She said funds for renovation can come from the budget for the shelved Mesa Aquatic Center.