Who here grew up playing in a portable pool at Grandma’s house? Raise a hand? I did! I personally grew up with a pool in my backyard, but remember as a child going to play at friends’ houses or Grandma’s house where there would be a portable pool to make the warm weather heat of summer a little bit more bearable. I live in New York now and even my nieces play in a portable pool on a city roofdeck because pools are scarce in the city…what was really shocking to find out this week was a new study that suggests portable or inflatable swimming pools are a greater danger to children than many parents likely realize, leading to one death every five days in the United States during warm months. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, provides harrowing descriptions of 209 backyard drownings and 35 near-drownings that have occurred in portable pools from 2001 to 2009. Scarily, I found out this study is the first U.S. research to probe the role portable pools have played in deaths or near-drownings.
Researchers restricted their study to include wading pools less than 45 centimeters deep to inflatable and soft-sided pools measuring about one meter deep.
The study, published Monday, June 20, 2011 in the journal Pediatrics, found that 209 children died in these pools between 2001 and 2009. In addition, there were 35 near-drownings reported during the same time period. The researchers reported on accidents that occurred in water depths ranging from two inches to four feet. One accident involved a parent who fell asleep in a wading pool while holding a child. Other accidents occurred during lapses in pool supervision when a parent left to answer the phone or was distracted by yard work. Two 9-year-old girls drowned in an inflatable pool after becoming entangled in a pool cover. In another case, 3-year-old twins died after leaving their home undetected and jumping into a neighbor’s unsecured four-foot-deep portable pool.
According to the study, 94 per cent of children were under age five and 56 per cent of the victims were boys. The children were also more likely to be in their own yard when the incident happened, with 73 per cent of incidents taking place there.
“The anecdotal evidence was suggesting that because portable pools are readily available in many convenience stores and malls, and they’re relatively cheap, parents would pick them up, take them home, quickly assemble them, and all this would be done without a lot of forethought about the safety aspects,” said senior author, Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
Why is there a trend in buying portable pools?
Portable pools have become a popular and affordable alternative to expensive in-ground pools or stationary above-ground pools. Unlike the fragile, inflatable pools of the past, portable pools today are sturdy and large, including some that can be filled with as much as water as a small in-ground pool. Large wading pools typically cost $100 or less, whereas very large portable pools can cost $1,000 or less. By comparison, in-ground pools can cost $30,000 or more.
The downside of portable pools?
The downside of portable pools is that they often lack the security fences and gates that most local zoning authorities typically require to surround in-ground and above-ground pools. Among the portable pool drownings that were reviewed by the Pediatrics study, at least 47 could have been prevented if the pool had been surrounded by fencing.
The researchers acknowledge that no single strategy can completely prevent a death or near drowning, and so advocate a multi-pronged approach. On the one hand, manufacturers should develop affordable safety devices for portable pools, including fencing, alarms and safety covers, which are common for in-ground pools. They also say better consumer-education programs are needed to make parents aware of the pools’ risks.
According to the study, children were under adult supervision in only 43 per cent of the cases.
In-ground pools must have fencing on all four sides, while portable pools can be put anywhere on a property, she said. In my opinion, many consumers assume such pools are safer because of their smaller size and that there is only a couple of inches of water, so it’s not that big of a worry. Portable pools can be extremely dangers and should be treated the same way parents see larger built-in backyard pools with the same importance of adult supervision.
“The thing about drowning is that it’s simply different than most other types of injuries, because if you fall from playground equipment, you usually get another chance,” he said. “With drowning, it’s quick, it’s silent and it’s final. That’s why it’s so important to prevent these events from occurring in the first place,” say Dr. Smith.
Note: Researchers obtained data for this study from the four U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission data banks: the Death Certificate file, the Injury/Potential Injury Incident file, the In-Depth Investigation file, and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
Bottom line mommies and daddies? If you are going to use a portable or inflatable pool – you must be vigilant the entire time, never leave your child unattended and treat it as if it were an actual pool in your backyard. What’s an alternative? I loved sprinklers in the grass as a kid – shockingly they are really fun and kids always find a way to make a game or two of it in the summer heat!