Drain covers aren't enough, federal panel said, revoking earlier policy. Abigail Taylor, 6, "would have been honored and privileged to be part of something that would help save other kids' lives," her father said.
The federal law came too late for Abigail Taylor.
But its intent -- to protect children from powerful public pool drains -- came closer to being realized Wednesday when the Consumer Product Safety Commission revoked its own guidelines and ruled that some pools must install a backup system that can shut off the suction before someone can be injured.
Scott Taylor believes his daughter might still be alive if the pool drain she sat on that summer day in 2007 had been protected.
"We'll never know for sure" whether Abigail's life could have been saved, Taylor said. "It's our belief from talking to some experts in the field that it wouldn't have prevented her injury but it may have lessened the severity of her injury. If Abbey had had some of her intestine left, she might have survived."
The Edina girl was disemboweled June 29, 2007, when she sat on an open drain in a kiddie pool at the Minneapolis Golf Club in St. Louis Park. The drain cover had apparently come loose or been removed. The first-grader lost 21 feet of her small intestine. She underwent a rare three-organ transplant but died in March 2008.
Reacting to the Minnesota case and others like it, Congress in 2007 passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, named after the 7-year-old granddaughter of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker who drowned when she was unable to free herself from a hot tub drain. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., wrote an amendment to the law that requires public pools to have automatic shutoffs in the event someone gets stuck on a drain.
Eighteen months ago, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission initially issued guidance on how to comply with the law, it said that if a pool operators used a new "unblockable" drain cover -- usually a dome-shaped piece of equipment that covers the drain and prevents someone from getting trapped -- they didn't need an additional suction shutoff device.
On Wednesday, the commission voted 3-2 to revoke that guidance and require the shutoff device. Commissioner Bob Adler, a Democrat who initially sided with two Republican commissioners, said he had had a change of heart about what Congress intended when it wrote the law.
"My previous interpretation is wrong," he said.
It was unclear Wednesday how many pools and spas in Minnesota or nationwide would be affected by the change. It applies only to pools and spas with a single-drain system, usually found in older facilities.
Taylor said he and his wife, Katey, who run Abbey's Hope Charitable Foundation, are pleased and excited about the change.
"I don't disagree that those [unblockable drain] covers are safer," he said. "But what happens if and when that drain cover comes off or is missing or broken or not maintained.
"It would not have mattered what kind of cover was being used at the Minneapolis Golf Club that day because it was broken or missing," Taylor said of his daughter's accident.
Thomas Lachocki, head of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers safety and educational training for pool operators, said the commission's new position won't make children safer and it might close pools.
"It doesn't make sense to increase the financial hardship on pools in a very challenging economic time," he said. "That would result in a reduction of swim lessons, which results in an increase in drownings."
But Taylor said his research shows that the average cost to install a suction shutoff device is about $600.
The commission said the new guidance would be implemented May 28, 2012, but said it will seek public comment about whether that date is reasonable.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252