Detention Pools, Children and Drowning

Besides algae and mosquitoes, there is another risk to detention pools/retention ponds. They can be a drowning hazard for young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores the general risks from drowning:

In 2004, of all children 1-4 years old who died, 26% died from drowning (CDC 2006). Although drowning rates have slowly declined (Branche 1999), fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years (CDC 2005)…

For every child 14 years and younger who dies from drowning in 2004, five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. More than half of these children were hospitalized or transferred to another facility for treatment (CDC 2006).

Nonfatal drownings can cause brain damage that result in long-term disabilities ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to the permanent loss of basic functioning (i.e., permanent vegetative state).
A quick scan of news accounts around the country suggests that, just as with swimming pools, children can and do drown in retention ponds:

The Columbus Dispatch, 6/8/07: “Fences on retention ponds overdue”
Joe Tinnes recalls that, when he pulled 2-year-old Aubrey Nicole Murphy from a Far East Side pond on Wednesday, her skin was blue and she had no pulse, but her eyes were wide open…

In Ohio, we have rules for every conceivable aspect of public and private swimming pools, including that they be fenced. The rules are picky because public safety is the obvious goal.

Yet when it comes to ponds designed to hold storm water, there’s nothing doing. Apparently, some folks are concerned about aesthetics and private-property rights…

…retention ponds [are] an increasingly popular way to deal with storm-water drainage. A 2005 study by researchers at the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Va., put their number at tens of thousands across the country.

Not every pond needs to be fenced, but they should be in large apartment and condominium complexes where many young children live…

Less than a month ago, a 4-year-old girl drowned in a retention pond on the Far West Side.

AutismVox, 6/22/07: “The Season for Swimming Safety Starts Now”
…I read about two children who drowned this week… Kaylie Dickerson wandered from her Blaine, MN, home and was found in a retention pool.

Indiana University News Room: “Water Safety”
Retention ponds and construction sites can pose drowning hazards
“Anytime there is gathered water, people, especially children, will be attracted to it,” said Bill Ramos, who oversees aquatic program development in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Retention ponds are designed for water drainage management, not for recreation. The water draining into them may contain a variety of chemicals used in lawn and property maintenance, Ramos said. Retention ponds are designed for maximum capacity, so they may be very deep and have a steep drop at the water’s edge. In construction sites, a heavy rain can fill holes with water and cause water to rush through ditches. Parents need to know where water gathers and discuss these dangers with their children. Communities should make sure that retention ponds are clearly marked with signs prohibiting swimming.

TCPalm, 6/26/02: “Editorial: A child drowns…”
The 23-month-old Amber wandered away with her 4-year-old brother from a house full of family members. The two toddlers were pretty quickly missed. But Amber was found in a nearby retention pond, too late to save her.

Grieving families are also angry families at themselves, at fate and, sooner or later, at whoever had a hand in creating the hazard that cost a life. That will include anyone connected with the creation, maintenance and regulation of the retention pond.

Storm-water ordinances overseen by the county Engineering Department govern the enclosure of retention ponds. They are no clearer than the water in some retention ponds, requiring certain slopes in certain developments or a barrier of some sort. And there seems to be a general exception that both developers and county officials have gotten hazy and lazy about: A developer can assert that a pond is “designed to serve as an “aesthetic amenity” and presto! No retaining wall, no fence.

Who decides whether it actually turns out to be an aesthetic amenity or how they should decide, the code doesn’t say. And the Engineering Department has all but handed that say-so to developers.

The Florida Times-Union, 6/18/06: 5-year-old boy drowns in a retention pond
The boy, Labian White, was dead.

“How many kids have to die because of retention ponds?” White yelled at those who had been drawn by the commotion at the mobile home park on 103rd Street. “They need to put fences up. They need to protect our kids.”

Labian drowned about 11 a.m. Saturday while playing with other children at Woodland Estates mobile home park. Panicking playmates alerted the boy’s family, who raced to the pond to search for the child. His father thrashed through the murky water, finally finding his son, family members said.

By that time, though, Labian was limp and his lips were blue…

“You turn your back for a split second and it’s over,” [his grandmother] said.

FortBendNow, 6/12/06: “2 Young Fort Bend Children Drown In Separate Incidents Sunday”
A sheriff’s investigator was told that Chiedza Nhubu, a mentally disabled 7-year-old girl, had wandered away from her home and was discovered in a nearby retention pond by the girl’s father. “A bystander was walking by during this time and he called Fort Bend County 911,” sheriff’s reports said. “The dispatcher instructed him on how to perform CPR.”

The girl was transported to St. Catherine’s Hospital in Katy, where she was pronounced dead Sunday evening.

Illinois Court Opinions: Mahmoud Mostafa, Naimah Salamah, et al. v. City of Hickory Hills, Hickory Hills Park District, American National Bank and Trust Company, and Asghar Mohsin
Plaintiffs’ decedents, Adel Mostafa, age two, and Amgad Salamah, age three, fell into a manmade lagoon in a public park near a playground and drowned…

The manmade lagoon, assertedly filled with murky water, was located forty-five feet away from the playground…

On November 9, 1993, the two boys left their apartments, allegedly without the knowledge of their families, crossed the street, entered Martin Park, played in the playground until they allegedly spotted a flock of wild geese drinking water at the edge of the lagoon, ran toward the geese, began to chase them, and slipped into the lagoon and drowned…

…in Cope, plaintiff’s decedent, a seven-year-old boy, fell through ice that had gathered on a retention pond, which was partially frozen…

…in Stevens, a seventeen-month-old child fell in a retention pond…prairie grass partially obscured it from view…

Kohl Construction’s condo proposal shows five detention pools and their proximity to the condo units. Most units will have 3-4 bedrooms, so we presume the development would house a number of young children.