Federal watchdogs set a shameful low in 2019, allowing the most kids in almost two decades to die due to defective products before ordering their recall, a noted children’s advocacy group reported.
Kids in Danger (KID), a Chicago-based organization that says it has tracked the child-protection activities of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since 2002, assailed the agency’s recent performance, asserting that lax oversight contributed to 38 youngsters’ deaths before regulators ordered recalls. That was the highest number fatalities since KID began its tracking, and 37 of the 38 deaths involved inclined infant sleepers, specifically the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play and Kids II rocking sleeper.
KID said in a news release about its latest, published annual report:
“Policy makers must ban and recall all infant inclined sleepers since studies have shown that inclined sleepers are not safe for infant sleep. ‘It is heartbreaking to note that one product class that wasn’t required to meet federal standards led to so many deaths,’ stated Nancy Cowles, KID Executive Director. ‘And those deaths will continue as both recalled and not recalled infant inclined sleepers remain in homes.’”
The Washington Post has investigated the CPSC, finding the agency’s pro-business tilt and partisan divides had damaged one of the nation’s top consumer safety watchdogs. Ann Marie Buerkle, the CPSC’s Republican chair, for example, “kept the Democratic commissioners in the dark about the agency’s investigation into the safety of Britax’s BOB jogging strollers and then helped end a court case seeking a stroller recall. Buerkle also led the CPSC when the agency was criticized for being slow to force a recall” of the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play inclined sleeper.
As NPR reported of the stroller: “Britax says its BOB jogging strollers are meant to take families to the zoo today, trail tomorrow and all that’s in between. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says nearly 100 adults and children over the past five years have been injured on those journeys.”
KID criticized the consumer product agency for failing to dog furniture makers for persistent problems with products that tip over and crush children, saying: “In 2018, no furniture recalls were reported for a tip-over hazard. In 2019, six unstable furniture items were recalled, and one of those items was associated with the death of a child. A child is sent to the emergency department every 37 minutes due to a tip-over hazard, and one child dies every 11 days.”
The child safety advocates noted that regulators also performed poorly with a product that led to choking risks for kids, reporting: “The product with the highest number of units recalled was Contigo’s Kids Cleanable Water Bottle. This product had 5.7 million units recalled after it was found that the mouthpiece could detach and cause a choking hazard. The company offered replacement lids to customers who had purchased the water bottles, but in February 2020, the replacement lids were also recalled for a choking hazard.”
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Chicago-area Democrat, reacted to the KID annual report, calling on CPSC to improve its work, including with more aggressive oversight and public outreach, especially by social media, saying in a statement:
“Today’s report from [KID] paints a sad and scary picture for parents in America. More than anything, it underscores how the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is woefully under-resourced, and badly in need of reform. As our nation grapples with Covid-19 and spends more and more time in their homes, we should be able to count on federal agencies to help protect our children from risks associated with products we use every day in our homes.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the terrible and preventable injury that can happen to babies and children, especially damage that can be inflicted on vulnerable consumers by defective and dangerous products, especially those of the medical kind. While overzealous regulation needs to be kept in check, it is unacceptable to politicize the health and safety of the nation’s children. And there needs to be a special kind of perdition for partisans and regulators who advance a private agenda while putting kids’ well-being at risk.
Voters soon will get a chance to weigh in on President Trump’s record of safeguarding consumers, including the performance of the CPSC. They may wish to keep in mind not only the news investigation of the safety agency, criticism of it by staff of a congressional committee, and the terrible tally by the children’s advocacy group, but also how the president has reacted to criticism of the CPSC.
Trump has announced that he intends to push aside the Democrat who had served as the agency’s chair after Buerkle stepped down early, instead nominating Nancy B. Beck, a chemical industry insider and a scientist who built a record at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of scaling back safeguards against toxic substances, to lead the CPSC. She may have academic credentials, but the public may not want someone with her track record to have big sway over regulation of issues like the use of fire-retardant chemicals in kids’ products and furniture. The November election may not come too soon.