Single-drain wading pools must go A threat to children: Tragedy reveals need for two drains in pools for little ones.

December 04, 1996

PERHAPS THE MOST frightening thing about parenthood is knowing that, no matter how vigilantly one tries to anticipate the dangers that can befall a child, there will always be traps unheard of and unforeseen.

Who would have thought, for example, that something as seemingly innocuous as the drain in a child's wading pool can be as lethal as an unlocked medicine cabinet?

We know now to take precautions, only because the trap sprung last year on little William Boulay of Glen Burnie, now 4. Presumably intrigued by the suction, William sat on the drain in a motel wading pool. His intestines were pulled out.

He survived, but he will never be able to eat solid food and will require 24-hour nursing care for the rest of his life. His parents just learned they will receive a $20 million settlement. It is one of the largest ever reached in such a case in Maryland, but not exorbitant given the injury and the cost of William's care.

This case reveals a need for legislative action regarding pool drains, which have caused serious but little-publicized accidents elsewhere. Maryland should look to North Carolina's lead and outlaw public wading pools with only one drain.

Dr. Thomas Cole, chief of injury control for North Carolina's health department, says the danger can be eliminated by adding a second pool drain. In pools with two such devices, when a child blocks one, the suction power transfers to the other. In pools with only one drain, all the force pulls against the child. The cost to pool owners of replacement or alteration is modest, a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Alternatives to getting rid of single-drain pools will not help, Dr. Cole warns. Drain covers break or fall off (as they did in the Boulay case), and do not protect children from powerful suction. Thus, more frequent inspections to make sure covers are in place are fairly useless, and costly as well.

The wading pool issue is a no-lose cause for some Maryland lawmakers. Meanwhile, parents should keep their kids away from pool drains and spread a warning to other families who might not have heard about what happened to William Boulay.

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