WASHINGTON - An average of 390 children, most younger than age 5, drown in pools across the U.S. each year according to two new reports.
"We are talking about 15 preschool classes lost in a pool or spa every year. This is a national health and safety problem that we must work to get fixed," said Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The commission released the reports on drowning and entrapment at a Wednesday press conference that also launched the national Pool Safely campaign. It took place at the William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center here.
Approximately 5,100 pool or spa-related injuries occur each year involving children younger than 15. Some of those injured require life-long medical care, resulting in millions of dollars in medical costs, Tenenbaum said.
The entrapment report also revealed that from 2008 to 2012, there were 39 swimmers caught in drains at the bottom of pools. Two people died as a result of this "circulation entrapment," in which the force of water rushing through the drain traps the swimmer. Three-fourths of those trapped were under 16.
"Minority populations between the ages of 5 and 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children in the same age range," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., citing statistics compiled by U.S.A. Swimming from media reports.
The same report found that 70 percent of African-American children and 60 percent of Hispanic children do not know how to swim. Forty percent of white children do not know how to swim.
Tenenbaum cited the lack of access minority groups have to swimming lessons as the problem.
Wasserman Schultz sponsored the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which became law in 2007, making it the first federal pool and spa safety law. The law established a federal swimming pool and spa drain cover standard and other safety measures for pools nationwide.
Last year, Florida, Texas and California had the highest number of pool and spa deaths in children up to age 14, according to the U.S. Swimming report.
Organizations such as the Red Cross, YMCA, Abbey's Hope and the Josh Project provide free or low-cost swimming lessons to parents and children nationwide.
"Our overall goal is to reduce the number of child drowning across the country by training children to swim and educating parents on the critical importance of supervising children in and near the water," Wasserman Schultz said.