The Checkout

A Warning About Inflatable Pools

The weather's been so cool, it's hard to believe that Memorial Day--and the opening of swimming pools all over--is just a few days away.

But as the summer heat approaches, it's once again time to issue a warning about those increasingly popular inflatable swimming pools now in many toy, hardware and mass-merchandise stores. Last weekend, Target was promoting a 15-foot diameter, 42-inch high pool for $328. "Ready for water in 30 minutes." Toys R Us was selling a 16-foot diameter pool for $199.99

The price alone makes these pools attractive. Then, there's the easy set up. With an air pump, they can be ready in an hour. There's no need to dig anything.

To kids they are FUN. But to safety officials, they are DANGEROUS.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has seen a sharp rise in drowning deaths from these pools over the past few years. Last year, there were 17 reported deaths, up from nine in 2004 and 10 in 2003. Good Housekeeping magazine and Consumer Reports have both issued safety alerts about these pools as has Insurance Information Institute, a trade group for the insurance industry.

The reason: Most parents or caregivers don't drain these pools after each use. In fact, it would be pretty inconvenient and messy to constantly drain these supersized pools; some hold as much as 4,313 gallons of water. And most pools come with filters and a pump, which makes users think the water doesn't have to be drained.

But that's the problem, safety officials say, since a standing body of water is attractive to kids. That's why local building codes require fences to surround inground pools. But a lot of localities have no rules regarding these popular inflatable pools.

Consider the danger of water before investing in an inflatable pool," cautions CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "Parents need to understand any poses a drowning risk."

According to a CPSC study, many drowning deaths occur when young children are not expected to be near a pool area. In the study, 70 percent of the victims were last seen in the house or nearby on a porch or in the yard before the incident; about 77 percent of the victims had been missing for 5 minutes or less when they were found. Parents may think that they will hear lots of splashing and screaming if a child falls into the water. However, many times, "children slip under the water silently. Even people near the pool report hearing nothing out of the ordinary," the CPSC said in a recent alert.

There's also a risk of entrapment. Last year in Quebec, a 13-year-old drowned when her hair got caught in the inflatable pool's filter. Her head was pinned to the side of the pool underwater, and she could not get loose.

So think carefully before you leap. For more safety information, visit the CPSC's Web site.

By  |  May 26, 2006; 6:00 AM ET Consumer Tips
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Almost 2 dozen casualties! This is an outrage! Out of control! It's not just pools we should worry about. I propose we fence off all standing bodies of water, permanently. Rivers. Lakes. Creeks. The Oceans. Large puddles.

New legislation needs to be passed to keep children away from anything that could harm them ever. This is the only way we can force people to become good parents.

Posted by: Normality | May 26, 2006 10:19 AM

In a way I understand how stupid people think it is to worry about the death of 12 kids... But try and imagine if it was yours.
In this case maybe education is the solution not legislation but we shouldn't just ignore a known issue till thousands of kids die.

Posted by: Momma Daria | May 26, 2006 10:31 AM

Around here in Central PA, there is legislation that in order to fill one of these pools, you must have a fenced yard. Makes sense to me...

Posted by: Matt | May 26, 2006 11:28 AM

You can't legislate common sense. It's unbelievable but many parents are too stupid to have children and it seems those are ones reproducing. Of course any body of water is a magnet to children, and these figures don't include the number of children LEFT UNATTENDED IN A BATHTUB by an irresponsible parent. We've had to legislate safety seats for children, seat belts in cars, helmets for motorcyclists, and heaven knows how many other consumer product safety rules. But people always find a way to get around them, or think accidents only happen to the other guy. They claim you can't watch a kid every minute. Of course you can. You should know where they are and what they're doing every minute they are awake. And punish them when they disobey your orders. If you don't want the responsibility, don't have children. Now don't get me started in child abuse -- if we aren't enraged about child abuse, why are we so enraged by accidents involving children?

I recall hearings before Congress years ago about flame retardants in sleepwear where a mother testified that her 3-year-old was severely burned when her nightgown caught fire as SHE WAS PLAYING WITH A CIGARETTE LIGHTER. DUH! You let your toddler play with fire and then blame the maker of her nightgown? Get a brain, lady, and stop blaming the manufacturers for human failings. (BTW, the flame retardant put in some sleepwear, Triss, was a cancer-causing agent. So, children could either burn up or develop cancer.)

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 26, 2006 12:01 PM

Once again human stupidity rears its ugly head. What kind of parent would leave a child unattended near a pool, on a deck, or anywhere at all? Sadly we know the answer to that question. They are the kind that blames pools, decks, bath tubs, etc. for their own negligence.

Posted by: Steve | May 26, 2006 12:05 PM

Steve, Southern Maryland, and Normality, I wonder how many kids each of you have? I agree, letting your child play with a lighter, or leave them near a pool unattended is stupid. The problem is (read the article again) that 70% of the kids were last seen IN THE HOUSE or some other place NOT near the pool, and that 77% of victims were found less than 5 minutes after being seen last. This means that these kids WERE supervised and WERE NOT left unattended. You all think you are perfect, but if you do have kids, I am willing to bet $$$$$ that you do NOT know where they are at EVERY given moment. It is YOU who think that accidents won't happen to you.

Posted by: Elle | May 26, 2006 12:42 PM

Now, what about those little plastic boxes for toddlers parents pull behind their bicycles while bking in the city during rush hour? I've seen several adults with those little carriages or baby crates, whatever they are called, biking on DC streets in the a.m. and p.m. rush hours. (I saw one on Capitol Hill recently and regularly see one around DuPont Circle.) They're like a plastic stroller that hooks onto the back of adult bicycles. True, the adults were wearing bike helmets. But that plastic baby crate is no more protection to the kid inside it than a flimsy shoebox. Guess who the adult will blame if one of those baby crates got rear-ended or T-boned by a car?

Elle, what does my having children have to do with other parents' stupidity? You just teach them to be careful, teach them the rules, and let them know what happens when rules are disobeyed. If they are too young to understand, keep an eye on them. Simple as that.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | May 26, 2006 1:05 PM

You say to drain more than 4000 gallons of water after each use? How long does it take to even fill a pool of 4000 gallons with a hose? --Let's see, at 5 gallons per minute, that is 800 minutes, or a bit more than 12 hours. The kids jump in, splash around, and then I go ahead and drain it. OK.

Posted by: John | May 26, 2006 1:35 PM

Yes we know they are dangerous, we get to hear this every year. The CPSC should be allowed to have one day set aside for their warnings and shut up for the rest of the year.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 3:09 PM

Southern Maryland, what if it's too late to punish a kid who disobeyed? Really, it's not that simple.

Posted by: Elle | May 26, 2006 3:51 PM

I'd like to get legislation going to mandate a wire cage with a 2-ft clearance around all stoves and that all kitchen knives be kept in a secure locked container at least 6 ft above the floor. Anyone caught violating these new laws should have their children taken by CPS because they are quite clearly unfit. How do I go about this?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 26, 2006 4:02 PM

I remember from when I was an 5-7 year old kid, my friends and I would have been extremely tempted by a giant inflatable pool filled with water and no fence.....I also remember that some of my friends of that age really weren't very good swimmers at all, though they thought that they were OK (there was at least one memorable scary incident at the 5' depth at a public swimming pool in town).

I can't imagine anyone wanting to watch a 6 year old every second of the would totally ruin hide-n-seek games, for one thing. I don't know that legislation is the answer, but I definitely think that it's something that responsible parents should think twice about before having a non-fenced pool in their yard.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2006 1:23 PM

My neighbor and I both have 2 year old boys and keep eagle eyes on them when they play in the back yard to watch for things they do and look for ants, wasps, anything that may hurt them. As vigilant as we are, yesterday, my 2 year old wanted in our inflatable pool and was told no, the water is dirty. He and his friend played on the playscape and with the play mower and sandbox for 30 minutes instead - but in the one minute it took to see if his friend was ok after falling down, my child was standing in the middle of the pool (with walls chest high on him) fully clothed with a big grin on his face -- no noise at all and in less than a minute. Any of you without kids should get off your high horse and realize that toddlers aren't logical beings and these are dangerous toys. We were lucky that he didn't slip and fall where we couldn't see him - it doesn't take long to drown.

Posted by: backyard mama | May 30, 2006 3:37 PM

Asserting that parents can watch their kids "every minute" is clearly uninformed. Studies of normal parenting practices by Dr. Barbara Morrongiello, a leading expert in childhood injury, show that during an average day 10% of a child's time is spent out of their primary caregiver's view (but intermittently checked-on) and 4% of their day is spent unsupervised. Why? Because normal parents are not superhuman -- it is plainly impossible to watch a child 100% of their childhood. The fact that an average of 280 children per year (out of about 20 million children under the age of 5) drown in pools actually gives testimony to how effective parents are at supervising; but accidents happen and a two-minute supervisory mistake can be deadly when there is an open body of water around. That's why pool fences are in building codes; they provide a safety net for normal (not negligent!) people. I believe it is unconscionable to own a pool and require your neighbors and guests to be superhuman supervisors just because you don't like fences. Lend a hand: put up a fence.

Posted by: child psychologist | May 30, 2006 3:53 PM

Southern Maryland & Normality, you sound to me like libertarians.

So try this on: this is a problem that can be solved most effeciently with at least an inexpensive, movable plastic fence around the inexpensive, movable plastic pool. Easier and less costly for society to require that of people who set up pools, than to require at least one parent from every house in the neighborhood to stay out of the economy to watch their kids 100% of the time.

And pool buyers are free to buy pools but not buy that fence, but, they are then assuming the risk of the tort system making them pay more later; they can discount an estimated tort judgment by the chance of killing their own kid or a neighbor's, then decide for themselves the level of security they want. I hope your neighbors are more accurate assessors of risk than mine.

By the way, does anyone think that "/a_warning_about_inflatable_poo.html" is an inappropriate URL abbreviation for this topic?

Posted by: Asdf | June 1, 2006 2:36 PM

I work in a pediatric hospital and have seen first hand the tragedies encountered by families of drowning or near drowning victims. Many times parents say they "Only walked away for a minute to answer the phone, check on something in the house, etc." It only takes a minute or less for a small child to fall in the water and slip under the surface. . Do not leave them alone by the pool or in the bathtub.
For pool safety there are some products you can buy. One is an alarm that floats on the surface of the water and alarms if the water is disturbed. If you have a fence around your pool there are devices you can install on the gate so an alarm sounds when it is opened.
If you can' be there to watch the children in the pool, the bottom line is they can't go into the pool. If you have visitors (children) tell them they need to bring a parent/adult with them to help you supervise.

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