INDIANAPOLIS — As children return to the pool and summer camp after two summers being stuck at home, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is urging parents to make water safety a priority.

The CPSC recently released its annual drowning and submersion report. The report shows fatal child drownings and nonfatal downing injuries remain high in children under the age of 15. They continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death among children ages 1 to 4.

“Child drowning rates and nonfatal drowning injuries among children under 15 years old remain high, and water safety vigilance is as important as ever this summer for parents and caregivers,” said CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric.

The latest data from the CPSC shows:

  • Across 2017 through 2019, there were an average of 389 pool- or spa-related, fatal drownings reported per year involving children younger than 15 years of age.
  • Pool- or spa-related, hospital department-treated, nonfatal drowning injuries involving children younger than 15 years of age spiked 17 percent in 2021 with 6,800 injuries reported, compared to 2020 with 5,800.
  • Of the reported pool- or spa-related fatal child drownings, seventy-three percent involved children younger than 5 years of age.

The CDC says for every child who dies from drowning, another eight receive emergency department care for non-fatal drowning. Drowning injuries can cause brain damage and other serious outcomes, including long-term injuries. The CDC also says certain factors make drowning more likely:

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Not being able to swim

Many adults and children report that they can’t swim or that they are weak swimmers. Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children and young adults.

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Missing or ineffective fences around water

Barriers such as pool fencing prevent young children from gaining access to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness. A four-sided isolation fence which separates the pool area from the house and yard reduces a child’s risk of drowning by 83% compared to three-sided property-line fencing (which encloses the entire yard, but does not separate the pool from the house).

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Lack of close supervision

Drowning can happen quickly and quietly anywhere there is water, especially to unsupervised children. It happens in lakes and oceans, pools, bathtubs, and even buckets of water. Drowning can occur when lifeguards are present.

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Location

The highest risk locations for drowning vary by age. Among infants under 1 year old, two thirds of all drownings occur in bathtubs. Most drownings happen in home swimming pools among children ages 1–4. More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among people 15 years and older occur in natural waters like lakes, rivers, or oceans.

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Not wearing life jackets

Life jackets can prevent drowning during water activities, especially boating and swimming. The U.S. Coast Guard reported 613 boating-related deaths in 2019—79% of these deaths were drowning related, and of those who died from drowning 86% were not wearing life jackets.

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Drinking Alcohol

Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in

  • up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation
  • nearly 1 in 4 emergency department visits for drowning
  • about 1 in 5 reported boating deaths.

Alcohol impairs balance, coordination, and judgment, and it increases risk-taking behavior.

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Using drugs and prescription medications

Certain medications can increase the risk of drowning, especially psychotropic medications commonly prescribed for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions. Side effects from these medications can be similar to the effects of alcohol, such as a difficulty thinking clearly and decreased motor skills. Other drugs and prescription medications might also increase drowning risk.

To help combat these tragic drownings, the CPSC recently announced that it is seeking applicants for a Pool Safety grant program. This grant program is designed to assist state and local governments with reducing deaths and injuries from drowning and drain entrapment incidents in pools and spas.

Under the grant program, CPSC will award up to a total of $2 million in two-year grants to qualifying jurisdictions, ranging from $50,000 to $400,000.

Parents can also visit the COSC’s pool safety page to find information about keeping children entertained and educated with water safety games and activities and find water safety resources.