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Cribs and Other Dangers

Parents spend effort keeping kids safe, and money on gear and fun stuff. But what happens when that cool thing you bought is suddenly considered unsafe? Buckyballs are now targeted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

My kids’ crib is embarrassingly languishing in our den – despite the fact that it hasn’t been used as a sleeping place in a very long time.   

Our Bumbo baby seat has stuck around too, although it was useful for mere months, since it’s meant just for the baby who’s learning to sit up.

And can I add our Maclaren stroller to this list? We have one of about a million of them sold in the U.S. from 1999 through November 2009.

None of these items were exceptionally well-loved or well-used, but they served their time and I’m more than ready to see them go. Yet they were all recalled, which adds a taint that makes them tougher to get rid of (unless you count tossing in the trash a good solution).

While improving controls over the lead and phthalate content of children’s products, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 also made it illegal for consumers and stores to sell recalled items. Of course, the most unwieldy of the previously useful things we’ve outgrown, the drop-side crib, is also one on which the Consumer Product Safety Commission has acted most aggressively. New standards that became effective in June 2011 mandated more durable cribs, and outlawed the sale and manufacture of “traditional” drop-sides.

The CPSC discourages owners of the older cribs from giving them away, and even recommends disassembling them before discarding. A retrofitted crib (immobilizing the drop-side) doesn’t cut it. By the end of December, day-care centers, hotels, and all public places using cribs will also have to abide by the new rules. Selected with loving care and purchased with hard-earned money, barely slept in when baby ended up in mom’s and dad’s bed – our crib may be destined for landfill.

The CPSC has reasons for its new standards. In a nine-year period ending in 2010, 32 deaths from strangulation or suffocation were attributed to drop-side cribs. For an additional 14 deaths, the drop side was not conclusively determined to be a factor.

Reports of problems with the Bumbo baby seat – which the manufacturer now pointedly has renamed a “floor seat” ­– ranged from minor bumps to a few skull fractures, most often because users weren’t following the instructions to keep the chair off of raised surfaces.  So for a 2007 recall, the “remedy” – which is the actual term used in a recall – was an additional warning sticker “WARNING - Prevent Falls; Never use on any elevated surface” that the consumer was to attach to the Bumbo.

Then in August, a further recall came after 50 more reports of injuries, including 19 skull fractures – all due to the Bumbo being used on a raised surface. An additional 32 injuries and two fractures were attributed to babies coming out of the seat, not necessarily at a raised height. Now, the remedy is a seat belt for the Bumbo.

Both Maclaren and Bumbo survived the CPSC with retrofitting (you can order hinge covers for the older strollers). But last month, in an effort to protect kids the CPSC moved to completely outlaw an adult desk toy, the most popular brand of rare earth magnets, Buckyballs. Eleven smaller manufacturers or importers have already ceased sales, and another smaller company, Zen Magnets, is also fighting a CPSC complaint.

Two years ago, Buckyballs were recalled because the package label stated “Ages 13+.” Now, the company warns that the products are intended only for those 14 years of age and older.  The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t explicitly support the proposed ban on the adult magnet toys, but the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition is asking members to request that their Congress members support the ban. These doctors, after all, are the ones dealing with the most serious injuries. Between 2009 and 2011, the CPSC says, 1,700 children were treated in emergency rooms for ingestion of the magnets. Surgery is sometimes required to remove the magnets from the gastrointestinal tract, and repair damaged stomach and intestines.  

Living in a relatively wealthy developed society, American children don’t die as easily as they used to in decades past. In the United States, for example, pneumonia isn’t nearly as dangerous as getting it in other places: 18 percent of children under five years of age who die worldwide succumb to pneumonia. So we’ve moved to try to affect the largest cause of childhood and adolescent death in the US – unintended injuries. 

Some of these efforts are vigorous, to comply with the law. The latest recall on the CPSC website, dated this week, was voluntarily initiated by a children’s clothing manufacturer whose hoodies were sold at Target stores. Guess where the company found excess lead – on the little zipper of the jacket.

Oftentimes, the CPSC proceeds with some restraint, but if consumers can’t get with the program, the CPSC demands become more stringent and the onus is on the manufacturers to help us protect ourselves. Buckyballs supporters have until Nov. 19 to submit public comment to the Federal government; so far none of the 100-plus commenters support the ban. My daughter has had the toy on her Christmas list since last year. But thanks to her dad’s websurfing of horror stories about the toy, she won’t see that gift in her stocking anytime soon.

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