If your pool was manufactured prior to December 2008, your main drain covers may not be safe or compliant with federal law.
What are Main Drains?
Main drains are the little circular things typically located at the lowest point of the pool floor. Dirt and debris entering the pool that are heavy enough to sink to the bottom will follow the laws of gravity and work their way towards the main drains to be sucked out into the filtration system. Most swimming pools and all newly constructed pools contain more than one main drain to reduce the suction amount produced by each drain. Unfortunately, if your drain cover looks like one of the following, dirt and debris may not be the only things being sucked up.
Virginia Graeme Baker Act
In 2002, a 7-year old girl named Virginia “Graeme” Baker became stuck to a hot tub drain and was unable to pull herself free. Two men eventually freed her by pulling so hard the drain cover broke. Unfortunately, it was too late. Graeme drowned due to suction entrapment from a faulty drain cover. What resulted from this tragic incident was the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act signed into law by the President in December of 2007 and made effective in December of 2008.
Under the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, all public pools and spas must have drain covers that meet the ANSI/ASME A112.19.8 performance standards. This means for swimming pools or spas with more than one main drain, each main drain shall have an anti-vortex drain cover that prevents swimmers from being trapped underwater due to excessive suction created by the pump and/or drain.
In addition, swimming pools with only one main drain need to have an anti-vortex cover along with a secondary anti-entrapment device. Secondary anti-entrapment devices, collectively called SVRS’s, can be either a safety vacuum release system or an automatic pump shut-off.
In an article by the Wall Street Journal, one month after the federal law took effect, it was estimated that 80% of the country’s public pool and spas still did not meet federal requirements. Reasons ranging from lack of supply of anti-vortex covers to expensive replacement costs were attributed. While some establishments took the necessary precautions and shut down, others have chosen to continue at risk.
Aside from the apparent safety risk associated with non-compliance, insurance companies have expressed non-compliant pool owners may have extreme difficulty proving they are not liable for any drain related incidents.
The Push for Multiple Drain Covers
Anti-vortex covers alone however may not prevent main drain related incidents. Undersized plumbing could still pose an entrapment hazard despite having multiple main drains with anti-vortex drain covers. More frightening however is a study conducted by the Pool Safety Council regarding evisceration. The study reveals that evisceration is still a potential risk in swimming pools where one main drain with an anti-vortex cover is installed with an SVRS.
Before you continue reading you must know, you are about to learn about evisceration. I have been forever scarred. Read on at your own risk. Do not read while eating.
Evisceration is when the intestines become sucked out through the anus. Yup. You read that correctly. That’s a thing. Studies have shown that evisceration can occur in a shorter time period than it takes for the SVRS to take action . So in essence…
Please make sure the swimming pools you are exposed to have multiple main drains with anti-vortex covers installed. Inspect drain covers regularly for cracks and replace as needed. If you feel your pool is not VGB compliant, you can find anti-vortex covers and SVRS’s at the following links:
 Pool Safely. http://www.poolsafely.gov/pool-spa-safety-act/virginia-graeme-baker/. Accessed January 1, 2016.
 Athavaley, Anjali. “A Dangerous Gap in Pool Safety” The Wall Street Journal. January 20, 2009. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB123240579499995601. Accessed January 4, 2016.
 Robledo, Rebecca and Kozen, Kendra. “The Great Debate”. Aquatics International. March 1, 2011. http://www.aquaticsintl.com/drain-entrapment/the-great-debate.aspx. Accessed January 4, 2016.