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Portable pools pose big dangers; A new study indicates that adults might underestimate the risks posed by inflatable swimming pools for kids

Brian McLaughlin and his wife, Melissa, have three children who love to splash around in their 18-inch-deep plastic kiddie pool on hot summer days.

But Samantha, 7; Erin, 5; and Brendan, 1 1/2 , can't use the pool unless a parent is watching them, and the water gets dumped out after they're done.

"No matter how you look at it, it's still a pool and somebody could get hurt in it," Brian McLaughlin said.

The McLaughlins' attention to safety sounds like common sense. But a new academic study shows parents might be overlooking some of the serious dangers portable, inflatable pools can pose.

As the kiddie pools have become more affordable and widely available, the number of drowning deaths and injuries associated with them has risen as well, according to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"It's a huge concern for us. We're not surprised the number of drownings has gone up," said Don Mays, senior director of product safety for Consumer Reports.

Retailers and manufacturers warn buyers of the risks in using the pools, and parents say some common-sense precautions are needed to keep children safe in the water.

"We are always right there," said Ann Dudeck, who said she and her husband, Josh, keep close watch on 19-month-old Ben when he uses the 1-foot-deep plastic pool in their West Seneca yard.

Portable pools are popular with families who have very young children, who can't afford a permanent above-ground or in-ground pool or who don't want the extra work involved in maintaining those pools.

A search of the Toys "R" Us website finds listings for 38 kiddie pools, while Target's website has 31 of them for sale.

The Target portable pools range in price from $14.98 to $1,600 for a model with a metal frame, ladder and pump.

A Target spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, and Toys "R" Us and manufacturers Intex and General Foam Plastics didn't return phone messages Monday.

But the makers and sellers of these pools recognize the hazards. The Intex 12-foot by 36-inch-deep Easy Set Pool on the Toys "R" Us website carries this safety warning:

"Children are at high risk of drowning. Keep children in direct sight and stay close whenever they are in OR near this pool."

Portable, inflatable pools were the site of 209 fatal drownings from 2001 to 2009, accounting for 11 percent of all pool drownings, according to the study in the journal Pediatrics. The great majority of victims were younger than 5.

"This is consistent with what the Consumers Union has been saying for years. We have been advising parents not to buy portable, inflatable pools," Mays said.

The study suggests consumers don't associate portable pools with the same risks posed by stationary above-ground or in-ground swimming pools, and they don't take the same precautions to keep kids safe.

That false sense of security has proved fatal.

Because wading pools are more accessible to children, they actually can be even more risky, experts said.

"Children are attracted to water," said Mays. "The sides of these pools are pliable. It's easy to see how a head-heavy toddler can topple in. A child can drown in a very small amount of water."

Wayne Kovach, of West Seneca, said although he takes every precaution, he already has had one scare with 13-month-old son Benjamin.

"I'm next to him the whole time, and even though I was only 3 inches away from him, he lurched forward and went in face first," he said.

Kelly Rinow, of the Town of Tonawanda, calls herself "overprotective," especially when her children, Jackson, 3, and Lilyana, 9 months, are anywhere near water.

"But I can see how some parents might think, 'Oh, they're fine I'll just go grab something to drink or turn my head,' " said Rinow.

Karen Price, a stay-at-home-mother in Amherst, and her husband, Jim, bought an Intex 15-feet by 48-inch-deep pool for their boys -- Garrett, 8, and Colin, 5 -- a few weeks ago.

"I was leery of even getting a wading pool. It doesn't take much water for a kid to have a problem," Karen Price said.

She said she thought they were ready to upgrade from the smaller pool they had only because both boys have started swimming lessons and they've had serious safety discussions with their parents.

The boys aren't allowed anywhere near the pool, which does remain filled, unless a parent is next to the pool watching them or in the water with them, Karen Price said.

In the case of larger, adult-sized inflatable pools, children can enter by climbing up on the filtration units even after ladders have been removed. And even the most vigilant parents have no control over children who wander into their yard.

There are a few basic measures consumers should take with a pool of any size, according to the Pool Safely education campaign led by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The group urges parents to teach children the basics of swimming, floating and life-saving. Pools should have an alarm and be surrounded by a four-foot-high fence with a self-closing, locking gate.

Pool ladders should be removed, safety equipment and a phone should be nearby and an adult supervisor should be present at all times.

Smaller plastic wading pools should be emptied immediately after use and stored vertically.

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