Tag Archives: CPSC

Kids die after they swallow button batteries

Everyday products in our home like a remote control or bathroom scale may contain a dangerous battery that’s killed 17 children and injured others.  That’s why the Consumer Product Safety Commission is pushing for tougher standards, and a bill is pending in Congress. Companies are heeding the warnings and taking action.

At just 15 months old, Carter Howard gave his parents the scare of a lifetime when he swallowed a button battery from his sister’s booklight.

“He wasn’t gagging like something was in there. He wasn’t clawing at his throat. He never complained. Nothing,” Doreen Howard says as she recalls the incident with her son Carter.

I spoke with Doreen and her husband Kip for a NewsChannel 5 investigation.

The family thought their son had the flu when he wouldn’t eat. Doctors examined the boy and found nothing abnormal.

When the boy still wasn’t improving after five days, his parents took him back to the doctor and insisted on an X-ray. That’s when they found the button battery lodged inside Carter’s esophagus.

“They had to delicately push the tissue away from the battery before they could remove it so they didn’t perforate it or make the wound worse than it already was,” Doreen Carter said.

Carter survived with no lasting health effects, but other children are not as lucky.

Experts say the lithium button batteries can cause chemical burns in as little as two hours.

I spoke with a Cincinnati mom whose 13 month old son died after swallowing a button battery from some type of electronic product. Michelle Truett says doctors thought her son had the flu, an ear infection, and even asthma. It was too late when they realized he’d swallowed a button battery.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission showed us several products where the button batteries just fall out. Only children’s toys must have the battery secured, no matter what type it is.

The CPSC wants security features on all products, and asked industry leaders for voluntary compliance.

Energizer teamed up with Safe Kids USA to launch an awareness campaign called, “The Battery Controlled.” Energizer will change its packaging starting in 2012, making it tougher for a kid to open it.

While the changes are voluntary, mandatory changes could be around the corner. A bill in Congress would require better labeling and more secure batteries.

Change can’t come soon enough for parents who know how easily a product can become a hazard.

“It was promoting reading. It was a booklight. It was an awesome gift, until it all turned tragic so easily,” Doreen said.

The Howard family now secures the button battery with tape.  You can also throw away the product and replace it with a safer option for your family.

CPSC issues another fire gel recall

Courtesy Consumer Product Safety Commission Safer Products website - picture submitted by consumer

Just in time for Labor Day, you may want to put away your ceramic fire gel pots. After a June recall, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is issuing a second one that involves 2 million bottles of gel fuels. Flash fires and burns are the concern.

Brands involved in the recall include Bird Brain, Bond Manufacturing, Sunjel Company, Fuel Barons, Lamplight Farms Inc., Luminosities, Pacific Decor Ltd, Real Flame, and Smart Solar Inc.

The CPSC says the gel fuel can ignite unexpectedly and splash onto objects or people nearby. There have been 65 incidents reported to the CPSC. Two people died and 34 victims were hospitalized with second and third degree burns to the face, chest, hands, arms, and legs.

The picture above is one submitted by a consumer from the last recall involving Napa Home & Garden fire gel products.  28 of the 65 incidents involved the Napa Home & Garden fuel gel products.

Crib standards improved – drop side cribs removed from the market

Infant safety is taking a big step forward today as new Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) rules take effect banning drop side cribs.  Manufacturers and stores that sell cribs can no longer make or sell drop-side cribs. That’s the biggest change with these new standards after infants died.

From 2005-2010, the CPSC recalled more than 9 million drop-side cribs. Click here to see if your crib was recalled.

The manufacturers must also make the mattress supports stronger, improve slat strength, make crib hardware more durable, and make safety testing more rigorous.

It’s the first change in 30 years to crib standards, and comes after dozens of infants died. Between January 2000 and 2010, the CPSC says 32 infants and toddlers lost their life due to drop side cribs. They either suffocated or strangled when the drop side crib detached.  In some deaths the crib detached without an adult noticing, and in other cases the consumer  tried to repair the drop side but ultimately failed.

Another 14 kids died from entrapment in a crib that could be related to a drop side. The CPSC could not tell by the provided information if the drop side was involved in the death.

Courtesy Consumer Product Safety Commission

The CPSC says drop-side cribs are not as structurally sound as a crib with four fixed side. Also, the hardware is prone to break or cause other problems. The older the crib, the more problems consumers had.

While drop side cribs will no longer be on the market, the second component of the law will not apply to December 28, 2012. This impacts child care facilities in the home or at a center, hotels, motels, and rental companies. The extension was made because the CPSC says an additional 935,000 cribs will be needed for all these facilities, and there was concern that would put a demand on the system that couldn’t be filled in time. The cost to replace all the cribs is expected to be around $467 million.

CPSC investigates claims of injuries from firepots and their fuel

Courtesy Consumer Product Safety Commission Safer Products website - picture submitted by consumer

Look around your yard this weekend as there may be a fire hazard. Firepots and the gel that’s used to fuel them are under investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission over reports of injuries.  A national retailer is also pulling the products off store shelves over the alleged safety concerns.

The New York Times first reported that two people were severely injured in New York when they tried to light a ceramic firepot with a jelly-like citronella fuel.

The CPSC issued a warning for fuel pots and tiki torches telling consumers to only add fuel to any product when it’s cool. Fuel splattering and burns are problems when fuel is added to a hot product. The CPSC is investigating the specific claims of burns related to the pots and gel-like fuel.

The reports of injuries led Napa Home and Garden to issue a precautionary stop on future sales of gel burners and fuel at retailers . Bed Bath & Beyond is one of the retailers and announced it will stop sales until further notice.

“We have sold tens of thousands of Fire Burners and fuel during the last two years and have always considered them safe products,” Napa Home and Garden owner, Jerry Cunningham said.

Gel burners are new products in the market. Napa said it relies on guidance from its fuel supplier to create safety directions for the product. The company says it believes the product is safe, but is taking this step of halting sales to reaffirm the safety. A third-party expert will review the warning labels and instructions.

Napa says there are already extensive warnings on the fuel containers and in the care and use instructions. “In spite of all the warnings, which are as good or better that any others in the industry, we need to see what else we can do to make sure our products are safe and people know how to use them safely,” declared Cunningham.

The incidents are also being investigated to figure out if there was a bad batch of fuel.

If you have a problem with a product like this, contact the CPSC. The government agency has a safety database, Safer Products, that can be searched to find complaints. I searched “firepot” and found one report involving a product bought in Washington. The consumer reports that the indoor/outdoor pot caused nearly $3,000 in damage, and included a picture of a burnt couch or futon type product. According to this report, when the consumer tried to snuff the firepot, “the flaming gel erupted volcano style throwing gel at least 5 feet across her living room…”

When I searched “fire pot”, I found another report from a consumer who bought a different brand firepot from a different retailer. However, they report the pot exploded.  The California consumer says the gel was burning a long time before it exploded. The consumer then wrote, “Consumer was spared, but dog was struck, and caught fire. Table caught fire and gel landing on concrete patio burned for up to 15 minutes. Dog ran and caught some grass and plants on fire in yard.” The consumer said the expenses for the dog were approaching $12,000. The dog has third degree burns over 35% of his body.

These reports in the CPSC database are unconfirmed. They are simply consumer accounts of what happened.

New resource to report an unsafe product

Before you make your next big purchase for your child or yourself, you may want to consider more than just ratings on the product. There is a new database that gives you insight into safety complaints, but I didn’t find one parent who knew about the website and new disclosures.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched Saferproducts.gov today to give consumers the chance to file a complaint about a product or search complaints.  It’s a result of so many recalls on children’s products.

There were efforts by some lawmakers to cut off funding for the database, and manufacturers are concerned unverified complaints will publicly be displayed in the database.  The manufacturer will have a set amount of days to respond to the complaint, and their answer will be included.

The National Association of Manufacturers wanted the database to be delayed because they feel it will put an unreasonable burden on manufacturers.  “Makers of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), toys and other juvenile products estimate losses of more than $3 billion as a result of the CPSIA. Many of these products present little or no risk to the public,” NAM wrote in one policy paper in support of it’s position to delay the database.  There is also concern that the CPSC won’t have the resources to handle the influx of complaints to really sort through the legitimate and illegitimate ones.

As with any database, you need to qualify the comments you see. It’s not uncommon for me to find negative comments about a restaurant I love.  Restaurant comments are more subjective than the safety of a toy or product, but there is concern some subjectivity could taint the comments.  Is the wheel of a toy car really a hazard, or did one parent just think it was? Parents need to use this resource appropriately, and hopefully they will. Don’t start reporting every safety concern you may have. Report only legitimate concerns and situations.

If you search the database, read those comments with some caution.   As one parent told me, the comments are a good starting point to get the conversation going. As we’ve seen, it’s taken too long to get the conversation going on some toys and it’s caused injuries and death in children.

The government has other publicly available complaint databases including Safercar.gov. It’s a website run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and allows drivers to file complaints about cars. The difference between cars and toys is that there are a lot more toy manufacturers than car manufacturers.

While you may look at a product and think you know who made it, you need to be careful. For example, a Disney pop-up tent with Disney characters on it is not made by Disney. They license the use of their name and characters.  You need to look for the small tag on the product or check the bottom of the toy to find the manufacturer’s name.  That’s probably the only clue you’ll have since the big tag that’s attached to the toy when you buy it at the store will be gone by the time you have a problem.

What do you think about the new database? Do you think it will be a valuable resource? Click “Comment” below and share your thoughts.

Consumer protection week – protection for high gas prices, products, and complaints

It’s Consumer Protection Week. While you may not think this means much to you, there are some changes expected this week.

First, will the government do something to protect the price of gas and will it work? There is talk they’ll tap into oil reserves as gas prices continue to climb.  GasBuddy.com shows gas prices are up 11-cents from last week.

With gas prices continuing to rise, consumers almost have no choice but to pay the higher choices. So, why not save a few bucks in the process? Try discount  warehouse stores.  They typically sell gas a few cents cheaper, or buy gas at a business like GetGo that offers you a discount on your groceries when you purchase a certain amount of gas. The savings are not that great, but you’ll at least get something for spending a ton of money to fill up your tank.

The tips about checking your car usually fall on deaf ears, but I’ll remind you anyway about checking your tire pressure. It’s an important tip that can save you money and the investment is just a few minutes of your time. This is a good idea not just because gas is so costly right now, but because we’re starting to experience temperature swings as we head into spring. Temperature changes impact your tire pressure.   So, if you’re pumping on a warmer day don’t focus on the pump. Stop staring at the fact that the total sale price is increasing much faster than the gas going into your car. Instead, walk around your car and check your tire pressure.

Since it’s so tough to protect us from rising gas prices, take some steps to protect yourself.

Seal of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Image via Wikipedia

Also, this week the Consumer Product Safety Commission will launch its website, Saferproducts.gov, that will publicly make available complaints about products. It will be a good step to protect you from unsafe products. However, it’s not without criticism. There is concern the site will allow unverified comments to become public and in essence give anyone a forum to say what they want about a product. The CPSC has a disclaimer on its site about the comments.

The site is already taking complaints from parents or caregivers, but it should be noted those will not be used in the official CPSC database when it launches March 11th.   Right now, the CPSC is testing its internal procedures with the complaints it’s getting.  The CPSC says that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain, because it reviews every complaint and uses them as part of the investigation process. However, why not just wait a few more days at this point.

Finally, Consumer Protection week is about protecting your right to solve a complaint. There are agencies that can help you with your problem, or you can help yourself.  The Consumer Action Handbook is released every year with up to date contact information for different organization. It also includes sample letters so you know how to complain. There really is an art to complaining. You need to argue your point in a short and friendly manner, and the other key is targeting your complaint to the person who is in power to make a decision.  The handbook is a good guide to help you get action on your problem. The book is free. You can order one online, or download the newly released 2011 book.


Two consumer changes caught in the crosshairs of debate

Seal of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Image via Wikipedia

Two new consumer rules that will transform two different industries are under attack. The Consumer Product Safety Commission will launch a public database in March with consumer complaints about products. The site, Safer Products,  is already taking complaints from parents in advance of the official launch. There is concern the data will be unverified and give anyone the ability to complain about anything.

A Kansas lawmaker told The New York Times, “I’m an engineer. I love data. But I know what people put online,” Mr. Pompeo said at a meeting of the House subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade last week. “I think this is a plaintiff’s bar dream.”

There is a disclaimer on the CPSC website warning consumers that the accuracy of complaints is not verified.

The validity of complaints is a concern on every website. Think of it simplistically — when you look at the customer comments under a restaurant listing you have to take them with a grain of salt.  I never think to review a restaurant online after eating there, but I probably should given the negative comments I see listed. I think it’s because it’s second nature for us to complain, but rarely do we pay people compliments. The complaints are always heard louder than the compliments.

Click here for the full article from The New York Times.

I wonder why there is so much debate about a product database when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publicly posts complaints about vehicle safety. The site, Safer Car, is a great resource to see what problems drivers are having with cars. I didn’t find a disclaimer on the site about the validity of the information. I only found remarks by NHTSA about how important the complaints are to safety defect investigations, and recalls.

If it works for one government agency, why can’t it work for another?   Perhaps it’s due to the nature of the product. A car is worth $10,000-20,000 whereas a product may be worth $10.  However, I think consumers are more inclined to research the $10,000 product than the $10 product. It will be interesting to see what happens with the product database less than a month from launch.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau funding debated
The other change is expected in July when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official opens for business. It’s already asking consumers for suggestions, as its still unclear what its role will be.  Today, there’s a post asking for comments on the CARD Act one year later that transformed the credit industry. The agency’s overall goal is to protect consumers in the financial industry.

Now, the agency’s funding is under attack.  CNN Money reports there are funding issues and talk of moving the agency to Treasury.  Click here to read the full story from CNN Money.

There’s more time to debate the future of this agency, as it’s official role won’t start until July. It’s been a controversial agency from the start, and I expect it will continue. A hearing is scheduled March 16th.

Related links you may like:
Consumer Outlook for 2011
New consumer agency wants your suggestions


CDC releases study on drywall issues

Effects of Chinese drywall on evaporator coils

Image via Wikipedia

While the drywall problems have not been an issue in Ohio or Missouri like they have in other states, it is a huge consumer issue as 3,794 reports have piled into the government from 42 states.  Residents of newer homes are alleging their health symptoms or corrosion of metal components in their home are due to the problem drywall.  The photo at left shows evaporator coils that corroded.

The Centers for Disease Control told the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that there is no evidence to link 11 deaths and problem drywall.

The CPSC investigation into the problem drywall continues.

Click here for more from the Drywall Information Center

Crib safety heats up – Illinois AG questions safety of bumpers


Image via Wikipedia

If you have a young child, you know the debate over crib safety. Drop side cribs will be banned in June, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has an entire page dedicated to safe sleeping.

The Illinois Attorney General thinks more needs to be done, and sent a letter to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association about the dangers of crib bumpers.  She wants production and the sale of these bumpers to stop, and the Attorney General wants JPMA to release the results of its study into the risks associated with the bumpers.

“The JPMA and its manufacturers cannot sit by and wait for regulators to decide how, and if, crib bumpers should be used,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “Their disregard for the danger posed by these products creates a very real danger.”

Madigan is concerned that these bumpers can lead to suffocation or strangulation.  Since 2008, the National Center for Child Death Review received reports of 14 infants who died from suffocation caused by crib bumpers.

“JPMA has failed to appropriately respond in light of these deaths,” Madigan said. “One infant death due to bumper pad use is too many. We must act now to remove bumpers from store shelves, stop production and work to educate caregivers to this threat.”

JPMA does not address this letter on its site, but it does have a Sleep Safe campaign dedicated to crib safety, including a video to show parents how to safely put their child to bed safely.

Sleep positioners are also a concern. These help keep babies on their back while they’re sleeping. The CPSC issued warnings about those in 2010.

Expect to see more debate about child safety in cribs especially as we get closer to the new drop side crib standards.



Consumer outlook for 2011

Seal of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Image via Wikipedia

2010 was a ground-breaking year for consumers, as we gain added financial protections.  From credit cards to gift cards, consumers saw change in 2010. 2011 will be full of change, too.  Consumer safety, consumer protection, and consumer prices will be hot topics.  Here’s a look at what I feel will be key issues in 2011.

1.  The new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection headed by Elizabeth Warren will kick into high gear. This bureau will likely make some noise.

2.  Gas prices are expected to hit $4 a gallon, just as plug-in cars begin rolling out. Will they catch on with drivers? The high price of gas will not only impact drivers, it will impact airline prices and bring back the fuel surcharges for delivery businesses.

3. In March, consumers will be able to search safety complaints about products and file complaints if they have a concern. This will add a great degree of transparency as we try to keep safe products on our shelves. The new database will be on the website, Saferproducts.

4. Cribs will become safer in June when drop side cribs are banned. More than 30 infants died in the last ten years in these cribs. Drop sides make it easier to get babies in and out of the crib.

In general, crib recalls have become so common, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) put together a Crib Information Center to help parents put their child to sleep safely. The CPSC has recalled more than 11 million cribs since 2007.

5. In July, we could see changes to the fees businesses pay every time we swipe a debit card. The Federal Reserve is considering a limit of 12-cents per transaction. Currently, the fee is 1-2% per transaction. The Federal Reserve says that’s a drop of more than 70%. It’s still a proposal, but will be discussed in 2011 and any changes are set to take effect in mid July. Click here to see an earlier post about what this means for consumers.

6. Airlines will merge. Continental and United have already received approval and begun the process. What will this mean for Cleveland, a Continental hub? Southwest and Air Tran are awaiting approval. What will this mean for Akron (which hosts Air Tran) and Cleveland (which carries Southwest) ? There are a lot of questions surrounding these mergers, and while the airlines pledge it will make them stronger there are questions about competition, ticket prices, and fewer flights.

I’m sure this will only be the beginning. Subscribe to my blog for daily updates of the hot issues, and money saving tips. Click on “Email subscription” in the upper right hand corner.

Let me know if you have a consumer or money saving tip. You can find me on Facebook: Jenn Strathman WEWS and Twitter: WEWSConsumer