Word games

Initially, the information appeared to be another of those national rankings in which Nevada comes in last. It was a news release from a federal agency:

“The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is urging caution after reviewing child drowning data for August released this afternoon. This new data shows that Nevada had more than twice as many child drownings per capita in August as any other state in the U.S. In light of this data, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Pool Safely campaign is urging Nevada parents and caregivers to be vigilant to reverse this trend, to follow the Pool Safely simple safety steps, and to take the Pool Safely Pledge.”

That's always good advice, of course, but the news release seemed low on hard facts, so we asked for names and dates for August. The agency responded:

“Three drownings took place this past August—one fatal and two non-fatal. We only know the name of the toddler who died, 2-year-old Israel Hall on August 3. The two non-fatal drownings took place on August 5 and 13. I've provided links to coverage of all the drownings.”

Non-fatal drownings? We checked seven dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, and they all said the same thing, that a drowning is a death by submersion in water. We also checked Nevada Revised Statutes, which contains the language “a human being is drowned or otherwise killed” in Chapter 200. We contacted CPSP again and asked what a non-fatal drowning is. The reply:

“CPSC uses the World Health Organization definition of drowning, which is: Drowning is the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid; outcomes are classified as death, morbidity and no morbidity. We use the terms fatal and non-fatal rather than death, morbidity and no morbidity.”

Then a couple of hours later, we received a phone call from CPSC's Jim Luetkeneyer, who said there was another correction, a sad one—that the three Nevada drownings were all fatal.

We took the opportunity to clarify the definition of a drowning. Luetkeneyer said his group follows the lead of the “community” of advocate organizations involved in this issue, and that while “there's a debate in the community,” CPSC has chosen to use the term drowning to refer to both fatal and non-fatal events, such as “brain damage that can affect them for the rest of their lives.” There is no single term that describes those, he said, so they use the WHO definition.

At the RN&R, we use the same definition of drowning as everyone else save a U.N. official and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but we don't want to deny readers the information, so make of it what you will.