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Most drownings preventable, says Child Death Review team

Supervision, signs & swim lessons can keep kids safe around water

SNOHOMISH COUNTY --- Each year at least one child drowns in Snohomish County, say health officials. Making this sad statistic even more tragic, Child Death Review (CDR) teams in counties across Washington state say 70 percent of child deaths by drowning are preventable. From 1999 through 2000, drowning was the third leading cause of unexpected death among children 0 – 17 years in our state, following vehicle accidents and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

“A toddler can stray from sight very quickly and drown in the time it takes to answer a phone,” said M. Ward Hinds, MD, MPH, Health Officer for Snohomish Health District. “Prevention is key to keeping kids safe around water,” he said.

Seven children drowned in Snohomish County from 1998 through 2000. National death rates from drowning are highest in children younger than five years old and in teens and young adults 15-24 years. Bathtubs pose the greatest drowning risk to infants, and toddlers drown most frequently in swimming pools. Children can drown in as little as one inch of water. Among adolescents, alcohol use figures in nearly 50 percent of drowning deaths.

Of the 47 drowning deaths in 1999-2000 among Washington’s children age birth to 17:

  • 34 died in lakes, rivers, creeks, ocean and state or county parks
  • 10 died in bathtubs, hot tubs, swimming or wading pools
  • 26% were age 1- 4
  • 38% were age 15-17
  • 79% were male

When investigating these deaths, the state’s CDR teams found prevention strategies were not being used where the situation was appropriate:

  • 94% had no flotation device
  • 88% drowned where there was no lifeguard present
  • 27% had no previous swimming lessons

Nonstop supervision of small children, fences and self-locking gates at pool sites, CPR and swim lessons, “buddy-system” water play, and use of US Coast Guard-approved life jackets head the list of recommended preventive measures.

“And by our example and words, we need to teach teenagers about the danger of drinking alcohol and swimming, boating or water skiing,” added Dr. Hinds.

Beginning in 1998, CDR teams statewide have reviewed unexpected deaths to children age birth through 17. Based on the reviews, teams determine if the death was preventable, identify system and policy issues, and propose prevention strategies at the local and state levels. In Snohomish County the 18-member CDR team includes representatives of law enforcement, human services agencies, the court system, the Medical Examiner’s office, local school districts, tribes, the military, health providers, and Snohomish Health District.

The Snohomish Health District works to improve the health of individuals, families and communities through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats. Learn more about the Health District at



Drowning prevention & water safety resources:

  • US Consumer Product Safety Commission,, 1.800.638.2772
  • National Center for Injury Prevention & Control,
  • SafeUSA™, 1.888.252.7751
  • Virginia Water Safety Coalition,
  • US Coast Guard, Office of Recreational Boating Safety,, 202.267.1077
  • United States Lifesaving Association,
  • Washington State Drowning Prevention Project:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: