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Investigation Reveals Possible Public Pool Danger

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) July 20, 2009―"Safety first." That's what some parents tell their kids at the pool. But many local public pools may not be following that golden rule when it comes to their drains. CBS 2's Investigative Reporter David Goldstein looks at how they're able to defy Federal Law.

David Goldstein: "Do you remember going to the hospital?

Ryan Kotschedoff: "Yeah."

Seven-year-old Ryan Kotschedoff still remembers the day.

David Goldstein: "Were you stuck?"

Ryan Kotschedoff: "Yeah."

David Goldstein: "You remember that?"

Ryan Kotschedoff: "Yeah."

Four years ago he was trapped in the drain of his backyard spa. The suction almost became a death trap.

Peter Kotschedoff: "It disemboweled him from the rear and he was stuck there until his mom went around and turned off the filter."

And it's not just backyard spas. Last summer here at Cal State Northridge, a day camp was using the pool and a young girl was pulled 18 inches under water when her hair was sucked down the drain. She was rescued and survived.

Ryan's story and other suction related incidents nationwide helped create a new federal law designed to prevent entrapment hazards. By mandating federally approved anti-entrapment drain covers in all public pools.

It went into effect last December, but as the summer is in full swing, our investigation of county records found thousands of pools not in compliance with the new law.

Peter Kotschedoff: "It's frustrating the new law is not being enforced. The right thing to do is to enforce the law which will save children's lives."

To demonstrate how dangerous the old drains can be, a weighted ball was used to simulating a child. The ball easily became trapped on a pool drain with a bond so tight that an adult can't even break it free. If it were a child, it could have been deadly.

David Goldstein: "So you agree with the new law?"

John Mukri: "As a father, yes I do. You have to know that drowning is the second largest cause of death among youths."

John Mukri runs the public pools in the City of L.A. He says 34 have been retrofitted to comply with the new standards. But admits 16 are in violation.

He says complying with the law means extensive remodeling that can only be done when the pool is empty. The 16 that don't have the new drains are year-round pools that haven't been drained.

John Mukri: "You're correct when you say they haven't been done, but I'm convinced they pose no greater threat than they did any year they've been in operation and we've had no problems with the drains in any city pool."

The City of L.A. isn't alone. We went through county records in L.A., Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura and found thousands of pools not in compliance, including four of five municipal pools in Long Beach.

And all four municipal pools in Pasadena, including the Rose Bowl.

The excuses vary; some weren't aware of the law, others say it's too expensive and some officials are waiting for the state to come up with its own regulations.

And they all say the L.A. County Health Department, which regulates pools, isn't requiring them to comply with the new law.



Bernard Franklin: "We're not able to enforce it, because it's a federal law. That's only enforced by the attorney general."

Bernard Franklin runs the pool system for the L.A. County Health Department. Even though there have been at least four cases of suction-related drownings or near drownings statewide, including the one we told you about at Cal State Northridge, he claims he doesn't know anything about them. 

David Goldstein: "A girl was sucked under when her hair was pulled in the drain?"

Bernard Franklin: "I'm not aware of it."

David Goldstein: "Should you be?"

Bernard Franklin: "I'm not aware of it."

David Goldstein: "Where you going? You're not going to talk to me?"

Bernard Franklin: "This isn't going anywhere."

David Goldstein: "What, it's not going anywhere you want it to go?"

He walked out, refusing to talk further about why the county isn't enforcing a law designed to save the lives of children.

Peter Kotschedoff: "I think it's a blatant disregard for the right thing to do. And the right thing to do is to protect children and watch out for their safety."

But our investigation found that is not being done in many pools in our area.

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