Study: Portable Kiddie Pools Kill a Child Every Five Days

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Colorful kiddie pools look innocuous enough, but a new study finds that a child drowns in an inflatable, portable pool every five days in warm-weather months.

“Because portable pools are generally small, inexpensive and easy to use, parents often do not think about the potential dangers these pools present,” said Dr. Gary Smith, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in a statement.

Kiddie pools are typically sold in the yard aisle of big-box stores, next to sprinklers, water slides and kids’ flotation devices. Brightly colored or festooned with Disney characters, they seem like they wouldn’t be any more dangerous than a typical child’s toy.

But when the researchers of the new study, published in Pediatrics, looked at drowning and accident reports involving children 12 years and younger from 2001 to 2009, they found a total of 244 incidents in portable pools, including 209 drowning deaths and 35 near-drownings.

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The vast majority — 94% — involved children younger than five, and 73% occurred in the children’s own yards. About 81% of the incidents happened during the summer.

Pool safety comes up every summer (which officially begins June 21), of course, but many parents may not realize that the same risks that apply to permanent, in-ground structures apply to portable above-ground pools as well. Some soft-sided, inflatable pools can reach depths of 4 ft.

“It only takes a couple of minutes and a few inches of water for a child to drown. It is important for parents to realize that portable pools can be just as dangerous as in-ground pools,” said Smith.

The most effective method of prevention is adult supervision: the study found that children were being supervised in fewer than half — 43% — of all drowning and near-drowning incidents. In 18% of these cases, children were left momentarily unattended due to a parent’s brief distraction, like running to answer the phone or chatting with a neighbor.

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In addition to supervision, the authors of the study recommend installing other safety features like barriers, pool alarms, removable ladders and safety covers. These protections are usually in place with in-ground pools, but they may not always be available for portable versions — and families who use such pools may not be able to afford them. What’s more, while many states require isolation fencing for in-ground pools, they don’t do the same for the temporary pools.

The study’s authors recommend constant and focused supervision as well as whatever back-up safety precautions may be available.

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