TOPICS > Health

Record Crib Recall Revives Consumer Safety Concerns

November 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Over 2 million Stork Craft baby cribs have been voluntarily recalled due to safety concerns such as potential suffocation. Ray Suarez has more.
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RAY SUAREZ: It’s being called the largest crib recall in U.S. history, involving more than two million drop-side cribs from Stork Craft Manufacturing of Canada. The sides are designed to be lowered, offering easier access to the baby. But there have been 110 reported incidents of those adjustable sides coming loose, creating a potentially deadly gap.

ANN BROWN, former chairman, Consumer Product Safety Commission: The hardware can crack. A depression is made in the bed. The baby’s head gets caught in that depression, and the baby can strangle and die.

RAY SUAREZ: In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says at least four infants have gotten caught and been suffocated in the cribs. In North Bellmore, New York, Susan and Robert Cirigliano now keep their 2-year-old daughter in a fixed rail crib. Their other child, a boy, died at six months, when the rail in his drop-side crib collapsed.

SUSAN CIRIGLIANO, mother: He was stuck between the mattress and the side rail with his face pressed up against the mattress.

ROBERT CIRIGLIANO, father: The thing was, there was never any warnings about these cribs. And — and, after research, we found that a lot of these cribs had caused injuries and deaths.

RAY SUAREZ: All told, more than five million cribs with drop sides have been recalled in the past two years. And, last January, Stork Craft recalled 500,000 cribs because of problems with metal brackets that support the mattress.

Today, Inez Tenenbaum, the chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, acknowledged problems in oversight. She said, “We have just not been acting as quickly as we should have.”

And there have been other problems with baby gear. Earlier this month, Maclaren recalled one million strollers, after 12 children had fingertips cut off by hinges. For now, parents with the recalled cribs are being told not to use them until they receive a free repair kit from the company. It’s designed to immobilize the drop side.

This afternoon, the crib’s manufacturer, Stork Craft, said, if the crib is assembled correctly, maintained correctly, and the safety warnings are adhered to, the cribs are safe and they will not be a problem.

For more about the questions raised by this recall, we speak with two people who have been following it. Nancy Cowles is the executive director of the not-for-profit group Kids in Danger. And Don Mays is the senior director of product safety at Consumers Union.

And, Don Mays, let’s get this straight from the beginning. Are we talking about this one manufacturer and this one model crib? Or are we now saying that any drop-side crib of any year from any manufacturer should now be considered risky?

Poor manufacturing to blame

Don Mays
Consumers Union
Although the Stork Craft crib recall is the biggest crib recall in history, this is just one example of all of the problems that cribs have had over the past several years.

DON MAYS: Well, although the Stork Craft crib recall is the biggest crib recall in history, this is just one example of all of the problems that cribs have had over the past several years.

Since the beginning of 2007, there have been search million cribs recalled. Most of them were drop-side cribs, and most of them because of hardware that just didn't stay intact when they were being used in the proper environment.

RAY SUAREZ: So, are you saying that people just shouldn't use drop- side cribs?

DON MAYS: "Consumer Reports"' recommendation is to stop using drop-side cribs. If you're in the market for a drop-side crib, look first for those with fixed side rails. They don't have moving parts, and there's nothing on them -- no -- no part of the side rail can fail and pose this terrible strangulation hazard that we have seen with many cribs, including the Stork Craft.

RAY SUAREZ: Nancy Cowles, isn't this a pretty familiar product used by lots of parents? As they drop the mattress in a crib as their child gets older and more mobile, doesn't it help people get growing kids in and out of cribs?

NANCY COWLES, executive director, Kids in Danger: That's been the use of it in the past. Parents do like the convenience of putting the side down, although I talk to plenty of parents who maybe even have drop sides and don't use them.

Today, drop sides are only about 10 percent of sales. So, I think manufacturers are moving to kids without drop sides. Without the need for that space at the bottom to drop the side, you can actually make the crib lower to the ground, making it easier to get the child out, even if, you know, you leave the side up.

RAY SUAREZ: Nancy, on the pronouncements from the Consumer Product Safety Commission...

NANCY COWLES: Right.

RAY SUAREZ: ... are they regulations with the force of law, or are they more like recommendations or suggestions?

NANCY COWLES: At this point, they're recommendations.

But, with the new legislation that was passed last year, CPSC will have to develop a mandatory standard on cribs that manufacturers will have to test to and make sure that their products can meet. So, we're looking forward to that as putting more rigorous testing into place, so we avoid these hardware problems we have been seeing over the last several years.

RAY SUAREZ: Don Mays, the head of the commission conceded that they were playing catch-up. It's the Consumer Union's position that they're now in the right place, that they are properly giving oversight to this part of the market?

DON MAYS: Well, we're very encouraged by the new leadership at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

They have been taking more action when they do uncover these kind of problems. I think, in the past years, what we have seen is very slow reaction to these type of problems. Children have died as a result. What we would like to see is them to push forward with some strong regulations that include durability test procedures to make sure that these cribs are safe to use in consumers' homes.

We want them to take quick action when they see death and injury associated with any particular model crib out there on the marketplace.

Differences in product regulation

Nancy Cowles
Kids in Danger
Until this law was in place last year, most parents were unaware that there was no requirement that their products be tested for safety before they were sold.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there a higher standard, Don Mays, for products designed specifically for children? Is a crib regulated differently from an adult's bed sold in a furniture store?

DON MAYS: Well, actually, there is a crib regulation that is overseen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

However, that regulation is -- is far outdated. And it's very weak. It doesn't include a durability test component that is so essential to insure the safety of the crib. There are also voluntary standards in place. We also believe that those voluntary standards are far too weak to protect children and cribs.

We're working not only to strengthen the voluntary standards, but we want to see the government set up mandatory regulations for all crib manufacturers to follow to make sure cribs are safe.

RAY SUAREZ: Nancy Cowles, let's take this back a couple of steps.

NANCY COWLES: OK.

RAY SUAREZ: If you're an American retailer, and you have located a design for anything, a playpen, a highchair, a child's crib, and you have got a manufacturer somewhere in the world, are you bound to show that design to a regulator in the United States government and say, here, I want to sell this in the United States; can I?

NANCY COWLES: At this point, you're not bound to that.

What you are bound to do is to test that product once you have made it to the very weak standards that Don mentioned were already on the books. However, when that new standard goes into place, the crib standard that the CPSC is working on and that Don's organization and ours are -- are helping to work on, then you will have to, not at the design point -- I don't think we're to that point -- but certainly before it reaches the stores.

Until this law was in place last year, most parents were unaware that there was no requirement that their products be tested for safety before they were sold. So, now we have put that requirement in place. And now we need that really strong, rigorous standard to make sure that, when they are in the stores and then sold and taken home, that they can stand up to being used daily with very young children, which you asked before about the need for extra safety for those children.

It's the one place you leave a child alone. So, I think it should be held to a much higher standard.

RAY SUAREZ: So, just to be clear, this is before it goes on sale through, let's say, a national retailer.

NANCY COWLES: Yes.

RAY SUAREZ: It does have to be tested.

NANCY COWLES: Yes, it does. And, in fact, some retailers have put in place -- because the mandatory standards have been so weak in the past, they have put in place their own testing requirements.

But, again, if you're buying on the Internet or from a small retailer, you just really did not have the assurance that that product was tested. And the recall that we have seen this week, as well as the other millions that Don mentioned, is the result of that lack of oversight.

RAY SUAREZ: Yet, Don Mays, we hear stories of accidental strangulations, things like kids really seriously injuring their hands, or, in the case of that stroller, having their fingertips cut off.

If these products have to be tested before they're marketed in the United States, how does this come to pass?

Regulatory standards must be higher

DON MAYS: Well, part of it has to do that they're being tested to weak voluntary standards.

NANCY COWLES: Right.

DON MAYS: And those standards have to be strengthened.

I don't think anybody on the standard-setting committee was even aware of the case that some of these strollers were causing fingertip amputations. Now that they're aware of it, I think they're going to move to try to address it. But the process is slow.

We also want to make sure that all of the strollers or any other juvenile product that poses a hazard is -- is addressed, the issues are addressed immediately. The Maclaren stroller is not the only one with this sort of hazard. There are other strollers also that have that same identical hinge.

RAY SUAREZ: Nancy Cowles, we have heard about products that only turn out to be a problem long after they're in the market. How does the information filter its way up to the federal government and to the retailer and to the manufacturer?

There are kids scattered all over the country, strollers distributed everywhere. Something happens. A kid goes to a clinic or a hospital for treatment. How do you find out when a product starts to turn up with problems?

NANCY COWLES: You know, unfortunately, we sometimes find out when the grieving parent calls us to find out if there's anything that we can do to help them with the product.

There has been a real veil of secrecy over injuries. For instance, you mentioned the Maclaren recall. The first injury of that took place five years ago. And Maclaren has in fact sat around that table that Don mentioned and never brought up that issue at that meeting.

And, so, again, one of the benefits of the new law will be a public database of these kind of incidents, where parents can put in their own information, doctors can upload information if they have seen a injury. And that openness to information, I think, will lead to much quicker action on these dangerous products.

RAY SUAREZ: Don Mays, same question: How does the information move to who needs to hear it, when kids are getting hurt by juvenile products?

DON MAYS: Well, Consumer Reports actually collects information from our readers.

We have more than six million readers that provide information to us about the safety of products. When we collect that information, and we see a repeating hazard occur, we will report that to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. We will ask them for a recall if we think that the hazard is serious enough.

But this public database that Nancy mentioned I think is the key ingredient to making sure that information about safety hazards are -- is really made public, so that parents know if a product poses any kind of hazard before they actually buy it. I think that is going to keep kids out of harm's way.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Nancy Cowles, to finish for tonight, where is the line between what's possible and what's likely and what's really dangerous to children?

Some of the products that have been banned in the United States, or at least curtailed sales in the United States, are ones that pose a threat when they're put together improperly. It's not necessarily something that the manufacturer could have anticipated, but there it is. It's hurting kids.

NANCY COWLES: Yes, although we do believe that the manufacturer could have anticipated some of those assembly problems. Why not make a product so it only goes together one way, especially something where the safety, such as a crib, is so vital?

So, assembly, there -- you know, consumers have a responsibility. But I think, until we're sure that parents who go out to buy a crib for their new baby are buying a completely safe product that's been tested to rigorous standards, you know, you can buy the -- you can be as careful a parent as possible, but if the crib isn't safe, it's not going to make a difference.

RAY SUAREZ: Nancy Cowles, Don Mays, thank you both.

DON MAYS: Thank you.

NANCY COWLES: Thank you.