Electric Shock Drowning - Unknown Danger Lurking in the Water

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Type:  Safety Bulletin/Alert

Publisher:  Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA

Published As:  Public


Topics:  Wellness

In July, 2013 a 13 year old girl and her 8 year old brother died while swimming near a private dock in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. About two hours later a 10-year-old boy died in a similar manner at Cherokee Lake, near Knoxville, Tennessee. His 11-year-old friend was pulled from the water and resuscitated but died early the following evening. In April 2017 two young women died while swimming near a family dock in Lake Tuscaloosa. These were not drowning victims. In all of these cases, 120-volt AC (alternating current) leakage from nearby boats or docks electrocuted or incapacitated swimmers in fresh water. In August of 2017, in Washington State, three teens were climbing onto the ledge of a privately owned pump house on the Columbia River and jumping into the water. They believe the victim had touched something in the pump house with an electrical current, and was electrocuted before falling into the river.

This little-known and often-unidentified killer is called Electric Shock Drowning, or ESD, and these deaths and injuries were entirely preventable. In just four months last summer, there were seven confirmed ESD deaths and at least that many near misses; in all likelihood, dozens more incidents went undetected. Every boater and every adult who swims in a freshwater lake needs to understand how it happens, how to stop it from happening, and what to do - and not to do - if they ever have to help an ESD victim.

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