The Consumer Product Safety Commission moved yesterday to recall -- and ultimately ban -- "dive sticks," a popular swimming-pool toy, because they can impale children who land on them.
Estimating that about 19 million dive sticks are in use today, commission officials urged parents to immediately destroy them because the nature of the injury -- rectal or vaginal impalement -- can be so severe.
"If you've got these, throw them away, get rid of them," said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. "We've not had a lot of injuries, but the problem is, the kinds of injuries we've seen are horrendous."
The 15 manufacturers that make dive sticks have agreed to voluntarily recall them. Some are offering refunds, repairs or exchanges for other pool toys.
The dive sticks are hard plastic cylinders about four to eight inches long and one inch in diameter; some are shark-shaped. After sinking to the bottom, these sticks stand upright so children can swim or dive down and retrieve them.
Brown said she expects the commission to consider within a week a staff recommendation that the dive sticks be permanently banned, making it illegal for anyone to make, import or sell the product in the United States. The commission has banned only three products since 1988, "so you know we think this is a very serious hazard," Brown said.
The CPSC said it knows of only seven injuries from the sticks. In six cases, children fell or landed on the sticks and required surgery -- sometimes more than once -- to repair the rectal or vaginal impalement. The remaining injury involved the face, when a child, bobbing down to retrieve a stick, got cut just below her eye. She needed stitches.
Dive sticks have been sold for nearly 20 years, but the CPSC didn't learn of any problem until last August, when a Silver Spring mother, Cherilyn Poulsen, alerted them about her daughter's injury a year earlier.
Poulsen said that at the end of her 6-year-old daughter's birthday party, a friend threw some pool toys into a soft inflatable pool in the back yard. All of the sudden Poulsen said she heard "a blood-curdling scream coming from my daughter." Her daughter was rushed to a local hospital, then transferred to Children's Hospital, where she underwent two hours of emergency surgery. Citing privacy, Poulsen declined to give her daughter's name or the nature of the injury.
Poulsen said she contacted the CPSC only after she failed to persuade the retailer that sold the product to recall the dive sticks. After Poulsen's complaint, that CPSC staff began examining data to see if there were similar accidents.
Lee Tager, president of Poolmaster Inc., one of the largest makers of dive sticks, said problems began to occur only relatively recently, as sales of dive sticks moved from specialty swimming-pool stores to mass merchants such as Wal-Mart.
The manufacturers had urged the CPSC to require warning labels instead of a recall, but it refused. "Warnings wouldn't have been effective," said Alan Schoem, director of the CPSC's office of compliance.
CAPTION: Federal officials are urging parents to destroy the estimated 19 million dive sticks in use because the toy has caused severe injuries to children.