State Politics

A 71-year-old woman stopped breathing in a watery pod. Now, a lawmaker seeks changes

This is an Aphelion sensory deprivation tank, where customers can float on a solution of water and Epsom salts.
This is an Aphelion sensory deprivation tank, where customers can float on a solution of water and Epsom salts. AP

Gloria Fanning just wanted to experience flotation pods — the trend where people submerge themselves in tanks filled with warm, salty water to meditate or relieve stress.

So the 71-year-old woman headed to one in Denton County in April.

Left alone, she later was found in distress and taken to the hospital where she died days later.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said it's time for the state to step up and require more oversight of the growing industry of aquatic sensory deprivation tanks.

"This is a tragic situation that should never have happened," said Nelson, dean of the Tarrant County legislative delegation, in a written statement. "Clearly stronger oversight is needed and I am developing legislation to ensure that we are protecting public health and safety."

The goal of these pods, or tanks, is to make people feel weightless so they can relieve pain, recuperate, even exercise.

They come in all shapes and sizes, some even looking like eggs. They come with lids that close once a person gets inside the pod.

That, some say, can be disorienting.

In April, Fanning, of Lewisville, went to The Float Spot in Denton County, described as the "world's first tranquility studio," for the first time.

There, she was given a brief orientation about the sensory deprivation tanks filled with salinated water "that increases a person's buoyancy," according to a statement from the Deans & Lyons law firm that filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Fanning's family.

She was left alone in the tank and later found in distress by an employee who first called the business owner, rather than 911, to see what to do, the statement read.

Paramedics arrived and found Fanning unconscious and not breathing.

She was on life support for eight days before she died on April 7.

"Gloria was promised an experience that was beneficial and completely safe," said Michael Lyons, the Fanning family's attorney. "This is a rapidly expanding industry that lacks any of the regulation necessary to ensure that customers are kept safe inside these aquatic sensory deprivation tanks.

"It is too late for Gloria, but this has to change."

Nelson's office notes that flotation pods are not required to register with the Texas Secretary of State.

The Texas Legislature heads back to work in Austin on Jan. 8, 2019.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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