Science

Hidden Dangers: Why can’t the government always warn you about potentially dangerous products?

When you buy something for your home or family, it is assumed that it is probably safe. Someone may be testing these items and paying particular attention to products marketed for children and infants.

But the federal agency protecting American consumers faces major hurdles before revealing that a product on the market is going to cause injury or even death.

It’s a painful reality for Virginia resident Keenan Overton, who looked down on her first-born son, Ezra.

“He was very playful, always smiling like me, curly hair,” Overton said. “He loved being held. He loved being noticed. And he was just a happy one, kid.”

In 2017, three days before Christmas, 5-month-old Ezra fell asleep for the last time.

“Until you try to pick up your baby and get a response, there’s no real way to know,” Overton said.

Little Ezra was suffocated in the sloping sleeper. It was a moment that Overton said he would never forget.

“It was the worst day of my life,” he said. “I broke my hand in the refrigerator, destroying the whole kitchen.

Ezra wasn’t the first infant to die in a Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper—and he won’t be the last.

over the course of a decade, Dozens of children died And hundreds were injured. Some babies have their heads flopped forward in the tilted sleeper, cutting off their air supply; Others rolled over and suffocated. But neither the company nor the US government issued a warning or recall.

5 month old Ezra Overton
5-month-old Ezra Overton died in 2017 after being cast at the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper.

Courtesy of Keenan Overton


In 2018, Portland, Oregon resident Erica Richter’s 2-week-old daughter Emma died while using a Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play sleeper.

Richter said, “Unpredictable consumers believe there is oversight, not realizing that our own government has to ask permission from companies like Fisher-Price before doing their job and when a product is going to kill people.” If so, the public has to be informed.” “It’s not just a problem, it’s a tragedy that is taking lives of people.”

At a congressional inspection hearing in June last year, US Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York called it a “national scandal.” At the time, Fisher-Price and its owner Mattel disclosed that the number of child deaths was much higher than what the company had originally reported three years earlier.

“We know approximately — I believe the number is currently 97, although those numbers vary. As we are also finding that some products were not Fisher-Price or Incline Sleep,” Chuck Scothon, A senior vice president and general manager of Fisher—the value and global head of infant and preschool for Mattel—said at the hearing.

For years, what was happening to these kids was a deadly secret, kept inside an unreported office building in a Washington, D.C. suburb.

This is where the US Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for overseeing millions of products.

CPSC employees conduct tests and collect complaints, but are often forced to remain silent about potential hazards, thanks to a little-known clause added in 1981 to the Consumer Product Safety Act, called Section 6(b). goes.

“There is no other public safety agency that has similar restrictions on 6(b) us,” said Alexander Hohen-Sarik, chairman of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Hohen-Sarik, who was appointed to lead the CPSC last year, says that part of Section 6(b) requires his agency to make any information about a product before it is released to the public. Requires obtaining company approval – including warnings or recalls. This is something that 6(b) advocates say can protect a company’s reputation from baseless complaints.

“At the end of the day, good companies will work with us,” Hohen-Sarik said.

But he says some companies don’t cooperate, even if their product is dangerous to the public.

The agency’s recourse is to take them to court. This is a process that can take months or even years.

“Section 6(b) provides that roadmap for how they can play the system,” Hohen-Sarik said.

That’s not how it works in other federal agencies. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may force recall vehicles for hazards such as faulty airbags. The Food and Drug Administration will order potentially tainted food off store shelves.

“Section 6(b) exists solely to protect companies. Nothing about it provides any security protection to the consumer,” said Sarah Thompson, a resident of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, whose 15-week-old son, Alexander, died. Fisher Price had died in Rock ‘n Play in 2011. In an email to CBS News, Thompson continued, “Consumers should have the right and ability to access all incidents reported for products in order to make informed decisions.”

“The fact that the system is set up this way should scare everyone,” Richter said.

“These stories are very heart-wrenching. It’s unacceptable,” U.S. Representative Jan Shakowski of Illinois said. She helped enforce the Sunshine Product Safety Act, which would replace section 6(b), which she describes as “a false rule.”

“These are the preventable deaths that we see — preventable injuries,” Schakowski said. “A decision was made a while back to stand in the way of actually doing something about it. I think the time is up.”

In 2019 — 10 years after Rock ‘n Play hit store shelves, bringing in $200 million in sales — details about the rising death and injury numbers were leaked to the public. It was only when, according to Congressional investigations, that Fisher-Price agrees to recall The 4.7 million sleepers that were sold – allowing the Fed to finally alert the public.

In a statement to CBS News, Fisher-Price says the sleeper was “safe” when used according to instructions and that they “voluntarily recalled it” and removed it from the market. [Read the full statement below.]

Today, as Keenan Overton and her new fiancé are expecting a baby, he says he will always think of Ezra as a hero.

“Wasn’t he a victim of that device – who knows? It could still be on the market today and it could still be a secret, because he wasn’t the first to lose his life in it,” he said. .

More than a decade after the death of her child, Sarah Thompson says more transparency is needed.

“I look around myself and think about what else I have that might have been involved in someone else’s death or injury,” Thompson said. “I have a right to know that information.”

For now, even though there are many complaints, CPSC President Alexander Hohen-Sarik says the agency should have the cooperation of a product’s manufacturer and their permission to publicize a dangerous product.

“Due to our law and the way it operates, if I heard about a product’s danger this morning, I couldn’t tell you about it.”

Each year, hospital records show that thousands of people in the US die and more than 30 million suffer injuries related to consumer products, including child nursery equipment, toys, sports equipment, household items, kitchen appliances and Many are included.

But over the past decade, CPSCs have received only a few thousand reports of serious injuries or deaths related to products directly from consumers.

CPSC urges anyone who sees a threat to report it at www.safeproducts.gov. Consumer complaints on the website may trigger an investigation that leads to a warning or recall.


full fisher price Statement

(Originally released in 2021; retitled CBS News on October 21, 2022)

The Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was designed and developed after more than a year of extensive research, medical advice, safety analysis, and testing and review. It meets or exceeds all applicable regulatory standards. As recently as 2017, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) proposed the adoption of the ASTM voluntary standard for 30-degree angle inclined sleepers as a federal law.

After the product was launched, various independent medical and other expert analyzes verified that it was safe when used according to its instructions and warnings. Two studies confirmed that the Rock ‘n Play sleeper was safer or safer than other sleep environments such as cribs and bassinets, and one study found that the product contained much lower SUID rates than cribs, bassinets, and playpens. There were incidents. In addition, we reported significant incidents to CPSC beyond the requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Act.

Although the facts show that Rock ‘n Play Sleeper was safe when used according to its instructions and warnings, we voluntarily recalled it more than three years ago and diligently removed all recalled product from the market has continued to work.

We reaffirm our commitment to parents that we will always put the safety of their children first.

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