June 20, 2011

Portable Pools Can Kill

As summer is set to arrive and more and more kids go for a dip in the pool, a new study warns that parents and guardians need to be aware about the drowning risk posed by portable pools.

The first study on child drownings in portable pools finds that a child drowns every five days in such pools during the summer months, signifying a considerable risk and the need for consumer education and protective measures, the study's lead author says.

Using data from the US Consumer Products Safety Commission from years 2001 to 2009, researchers found more than 200 children drowned in portable pools during that time.

"Parents need to be aware that these pools can present the same risks for drowning, especially for young children, as in-ground pools," study author, Dr. Gary Smith, head of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told Reuters Health.

"Over the last decade, we've seen an increase in the number of people who use portable pools, and in many cases, it's our impression that parents may not be aware of their risks," said Smith.

While the findings do not suggest families shouldn't use portable or wading pools, Smith says parents need to "put some thought into the safety issues when they go to the store, pick one of these up, and put them up in their backyard."

Smith and colleagues looked at the data over the nine-year period and found records of 209 drownings and 35 non-fatal cases in children under the age of 12, most of which were under 5 years old. The number of drowning cases increased between 2001 and 2005, but has leveled off in the latter years.

The team found cases of drowning when kids climbed into the pool by using a ladder or other nearby object, as well as kids playing in the pool when parents were nearby but were distracted by chores or phone calls.

The study found that 73 percent of accidents happened in the child's own yard, and nearly all of them -- 94 percent -- were under 5 years old. Smith said that 80 percent of the accidents occurred during summer months.

Parents "can't say they're supervising having a couple drinks at a pool and chatting with their friends or talking on a cell phone," said Dr. Linda Quan, a drowning expert at Seattle Children's Hospital.

"Supervision has to be constant...and for a very young child, even within arm's reach," Quan told Reuters Health. Quan was not involved in the current research.

A good safety measure is making sure children have on a life jacket whenever they are in the pool, Quan added.

The researchers added that when parents cannot be outside watching their kids, they have to make sure there is no access to the pool.

One of the simplest safety measures is to empty the pool, especially for smaller pools, Quan noted.

Also, parents could put up a fence around the pool and make sure kids aren't able to reach a ladder for bigger pools, Smith added. "Two-thirds of the children who drowned gained access to the portable pool through the ladder," he said.

One safety measure, a pool cover, the team warns, actually could make the pool more dangerous. In at least one case, a pair of children drowned together when they got tangled up in the pool cover.

While in-ground pools often come standard with safety measures, portable pools often go unchecked because they are much cheaper, costing as little as $50. And many safety features, such as building a fence around the pool, costs more than the pool itself.

"Safety features should be included at the point of sale," Smith remarked. "When you buy a car, you don't go and buy the seat belt somewhere else. It should be the same case here."

Dr. Anne Brayer, associate professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at University of Rochester School of Medicine, said portable pools "are quite inexpensive and, hence, popular. But parents can easily underestimate the risks and need for safety precautions."

"Parents should really think long and hard about having such a pool with toddlers," Brayer told ABC News. She added that "sprinklers or community pools are a safer, fun way to stay cool."

Dr. Ruth Brenner, who has studied drowning at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said getting parents to follow preventive measures "is a challenge."

"But it does represent a significant risk for children. Children can drown in very small amounts of water," Brenner, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters.

"Drowning is different than other injuries," said Smith. "In many other injuries, kids get a second chance. When they fall on the playground, they may break their arm, but they get a second chance. Drowning outcomes can be so severe that primary prevention is absolutely essential because it's so quick and final."

Smith added that parents with young kids should take supervision a step further to include "touch supervision" in which the child is within easy reach of the parent or guardian at all times.

Smith said he hoped the study results would send a message to manufacturers to update and improve safety features for all types of pools.

"These are popular consumer products used with many families, so one thing we'd really like them to do is develop marketing for affordable prevention devices for these pools," he said. "We'll leave it to the industry to figure out the best designs and tools."

The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals supports "layers of protection," and the study emphasizes the importance of active, undistracted adult supervision, said Carvin DiGiovanni a senior director at the Alexandria, Va.-based association.

"The primary layer of protection is constant adult supervision supplemented by barriers, alarms and other related devices," Giovanni told The Associated Press. "We encourage homeowners to purchase the additional layer of protection that works for them knowing that they would be more likely to use it."

Another finding of the study showed that CPR was administered before emergency crews arrived in 15 percent of the fatalities and 17 percent of the near-drownings. Those figures show "it's time for us to begin requiring that people learn how to do CPR," said Susan Baker, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research & Policy in Baltimore.

"That to me is a reminder that every one of us ought to be knowledgeable about how to do CPR and willing to jump in and do it immediately," said Baker, who was not involved in the research.

Smith said drownings overall represent the second-leading cause of injury deaths among young children.


On the Net: