FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. August 31, 2011—While most families will hold fond memories of the fun they had at the pool or beach this summer, at least 1,592 families will remember the summer of 2011 with deep sorrow as the time when their loved one drowned.
“This summer was marred by tragedy for too many families,” says Mick Nelson, facilities development director at USA Swimming, Colorado Springs, Colo., who has tracked drowning news reports since 2008. At least 416 children, ages 12 and younger; 204 teenagers, ages 13 to 19 and 972 adults were reported to have drowned according to news reports gathered from May 1 through August 26. Nearly 84 percent of all reported drownings involved males.
Among the reported drownings of children, 286—nearly 70 percent—were younger than 5 and about 70 percent of the drownings for this age group occurred in a swimming pool or spa. About 70 percent of these young drowning victims were boys.
About 1,180 drownings occurred in natural water such as lakes, rivers, oceans, ponds and ditches according to Nelson. The majority of these victims were teenagers and adults. He notes that alcohol was mentioned in 57 percent of adult drowning news reports—a 17 percent increase over previous years. However, he states this increase could be due to more detailed incident reporting.
States with the highest number of reported drowning incidents include: Texas, 140; California, 115; Florida, 90, Michigan, 79, New York, 57 and Pennsylvania, 63.
“I hope these figures serve as a wake-up call for state and local governments to take a hard look at creating, improving and enforcing swimming pool barrier codes,” says Nadina Riggsbee, founder of the Drowning Prevention Foundation in Benicia, California. Her two-year-old daughter, Samira, drowned and one-year-old son, JJ, suffered permanent, profound brain damage after they fell into her in-ground pool in 1978, while their babysitter was in the bathroom.
“While in-ground swimming pools continue to pose a serious drowning risk to young children, a growing number are drowning in portable pools. Little kids can fall in when they reach over the pool’s pliable sidewall,” says Riggsbee. “So it’s just as important to completely enclose those with a fence as any other pool.”
This summer the American Academy of Pediatrics published a study of child drownings in portable pools in which the authors conclude that portable pools pose a “significant risk” to children, particularly those under age 5.
The National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA) warns that the end of the summer does not signal the end of drowning incidents. “While the drowning rate peaks during summer, it’s a serious year-round problem,” says NDPA Executive Director Kim Burgess of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “This is especially true for children ages four and younger.” As an example of year-round drowning risks, Burgess points to the 21 bathtub and three bucket drownings reported this summer. “Never leave a baby or toddler alone in the bath or near any container of water,” says Burgess. She adds that parents should also ensure their child’s caregiver is mature, responsible and understands drowning risks.
“We typically see a spike in child drownings on holiday weekends,” says Tiffaney Isaacson, president of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and Water Safety Coordinator for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “If you host a pool party during the Labor Day holiday, be sure to designate a responsible water watcher who will remain vigilant and undistracted while watching children playing in or near water.”
Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death to children nationally. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that an average of 5,100 pool- or spa-related submersion injuries were treated in hospital emergency departments each year from 2008 through 2010. The CPSC found that from 2006 to 2008 an annual average of 383 pool- or spa-related fatalities involved children younger than 15. More than three-quarters of the reported fatalities and nearly 80 percent of the treated injuries involved children younger than 5.
To fulfill public education requirements of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act, the CPSC created the Pool Safely: Simple Steps Save Lives campaign. The NDPA is one of several organizations contracted by the CPSC to help with public education and outreach. Parents and pool owners are encouraged to visit Pool Safely.gov and NDPA.org for safety tips, informational videos and children’s games and activities.
The National Drowning Prevention Alliance is a volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2004. NDPA members are dedicated to preventing drowning for all age groups in all bodies of water through public education, advocacy and strategic partnerships. The public is invited to join by visiting NDPA.org.
The CPSC created The Pool Safely campaign to fulfill requirements of Section 1407 of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (P&SS Act). The 2007 law is named for the 7-year-old granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker who drowned in 2002 when she became trapped on an in-ground hot tub drain.