Posted On: August 31, 2012

Kids Don’t Know that Furniture Isn’t Recreational Equipment

If your kid sees the couch as a trampoline, the highchair as a jungle gym and the table as a chin-up bar, be aware that, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), thousands of children suffer injuries every year from toppling furniture.

As Dr. Gary Smith, president of the nonprofit Child Injury Prevention Alliance, told the consumer news site Fair Warning, “Furniture was designed for the convenience of adults, child injury was never considered. …[Parents] simply don’t know that they’ve got this danger lurking.”

In 2010, the most recent year for which federal estimates are available, unstable furniture was responsible for 23,600 emergency room visits, the highest number since 2006. Most of those patients were younger than 10 years old.

Approximately 20,000 people that year were hurt by TVs, which often sit on furniture not designed to support them.

The injuries include serious bruising, damage to internal organ damage and fractures. From 2000 through 2010, the CPSC received reports of nearly 300 deaths, mostly involving children who were crushed.

These stories fuel efforts to inform parents and revise the manufacturing standards.

Jenny Horn’s 2-year-old son, Charlie, choked to death underneath a 30-inch dresser in his bedroom while his caretaker thought he was sleeping. She heard nothing even when the dresser toppled onto him after he apparently climbed on it. “They call it a silent death,” Horn told Fair Warning. Children “are a cushion for the fall of the dresser so you don’t necessarily hear a sound.”

A similar accident befell Meghan Packard, 3. “By the time we found her, it was too late,” Kimberly Packard said, explaining that her husband and Meghan’s twin brother, Ryan, discovered her underneath a dresser.

Horn and Packard had secured taller pieces of furniture in their homes to the walls; they never suspected that smaller pieces of furniture also posed a threat.

The furniture industry has been guided since 2000 by voluntary stability standards for dressers and other storage units. The current standard, in effect since in 2009, requires furniture to remain steady when all the drawers are open and when a 50-pound weight is placed in the front of a drawer to simulate a 5-year-old that sees it as monkey bars.

Chests and dressers are supposed to have tip restraints for consumers to affix to a wall.

A panel composed of CPSC, industry officials and consumer advocates are considering whether, and how, to toughen the standard. But is a tougher voluntary standard effective when some companies ignore it?

One product compliance manager at Stanley Furniture Co. told Fair Warning, “Where you get into trouble is with the furniture that is less expensive in some of the big box stores.” A person who worked in testing and distribution for Ethan Allen agreed that for some manufacturers, if the rules aren’t mandatory, “They won’t do it.”

Even what the panel’s considering falls short. At present, it would continue to exempt items without drawers, such as tables and bookcases. One trade group representative said that those furnishings are less likely to be involved in fatal accidents.

An accident doesn’t have to be fatal to be tragic and unnecessary, does it?

A bill introduced in Congress in 2005 to set mandatory safety standards on furniture and TVs was supported by the Consumer Federation of America, but failed.

One rationale given for not seeking a mandatory standard is that a voluntary standard can be developed and revised more quickly. A CPSC spokesman said that when immediate action is necessary to remove faulty furniture from the market, his agency works with industry to carry out product recalls.

According to the CPSC, there have been nine furniture industry recalls since 1992, covering nearly 1.7 million pieces of potentially wobbly furniture.

The popularity of big, flat-screen TVs has led to an increase in TV set-related accidents partly because after buying one, some people put their older, bulkier models on furniture unable to support them.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wants the CPSC to boost efforts to educate the public about the hazards unsecured TV sets can pose to children. The commission is studying what kinds of TVs tend to be involved in the incidents, but, really, it’s not rocket science—figure it out and tell people.

As always, even when safety initiatives are developed some people remain ignorant of or uninterested in them. A telephone survey earlier this year of 1,000 U.S. households by the American Home Furnishings Alliance found that only 36 in 100 with children younger than 6 anchored their TV or furniture to the wall to prevent tip-over accidents.

To learn how to secure furniture and protect children, visit the website of Charlie’s House, a nonprofit named for Jenny Horn’s son, that’s dedicated to child safety.

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Posted On: August 24, 2012

Magnetic Toys for Grownups Prove Irresistible, and Dangerous, to Kids

The small, strong magnetic blocks are marketed for grownups only, something to fiddle with at the office, but they're proving irresistible to kids, and have caused a string of serious injuries. So how do you protect children from something that isn't intended as a kids' toy?

Several years ago, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) raised a public alarm about the dangers posed to youngsters from magnetic toys. Kids, and not just babies, but those “old enough to know better” were known to have swallowed pieces of the popular desk-top accessory.

The magnets bunch together in the gastrointestinal tract, twisting or pinching the intestines, causing blockages, perforation or infection that can require surgery. Some kids have died.

Late last year, the CPSC ratcheted up its warning. “An increasing number of incident reports to the … CPSC indicate that high-powered magnets continue to be a safety risk to children,” its report said. “From toddlers to teens, children are swallowing these magnets and the consequences are severe.” The agency got one incident report in 2009, seven in 2010 and 14 through October 2011. They involved children from 18 months to 15 years old; 17 involved magnet ingestion and 11 required surgical removal. “When a magnet has to be removed surgically,” the agency said, “it often requires the repair of the child's damaged stomach and intestines.”

According to Reuters, the commission has received more than a dozen reports since then of children ingesting the magnets. Many required surgery.

So last month the CPSC effectively said, “Enough,” and ordered a halt to sale of Buckyballs and Buckycubes magnetic toys, deeming them a serious hazard. It was the commission’s first stop-sale order in 11 years.

The commission ordered distributor Maxfield & Oberton Holdings to halt sales because injuries to children who had swallowed them were on the rise. “[W]arnings are ineffective,” the CPSC said.

Maxfield & Oberton must stop importing and distributing the Chinese-made magnets. They also must issue refunds, according to the complaint, and direct retailers to stop distributing the toys.

More than 2 million Buckyballs and at least 200,000 Buckycubes have been sold in the U.S.

According to, Maxfield & Oberton and the commission had negotiated a Buckyball recall in May 2010 as a result of labels that read for “Ages 13+”; the commission said federal toy standards for powerful loose magnets may not be sold to children younger than 14. And in November, Maxfield & Oberton and the CPSC created an educational campaign to inform consumers that the magnets were intended only for adults.

In June, a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics added fuel to the swallowed-magnet fire. It reinforced the need for medical practitioners and parents to understand the dangers of magnet toys. And last month, Battat Inc., manufacturer of the Magnabild Magnetic Building Sets, was fined $400,000 for allegedly failing to report problems with its magnetic toys, which were blamed for the death of at least one child.

This month, in only its second such action in 11 years, the CPSC filed an administrative complaint against Zen Magnets LLC, alleging that its products contain defects in the design, packaging, warnings and instructions, and pose a substantial risk of injury to the public.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the firm from selling Zen Magnets Rare Earth Magnet Balls, notify the public of the defect and offer consumers a full refund.

Eleven manufacturers and/or importers of sets of small, powerful, individual magnets voluntarily have agreed to the CPSC request to stop their manufacture, import, distribution and sale. Zen Magnets and Maxfield & Oberton are the only companies that have refused to comply, to date.

As noted by the Associated Press, attempting to remove a product from the market is a rare move for the CPSC, which prefers to work cooperatively with companies to stop the sale of hazardous products.

The commission's aggressive action raises questions about governmental authority to stop companies from selling products that, if used properly, are safe and legal. The Zen Magnets website posted this objection: "How much societal damage results from the slippery slope of absolving parents from the responsibility to read warnings?"

It’s a fair point. But it’s also clear that these products are unusually unsafe. Until they are removed from the market, the CPSC advises parents who suspect that their child has swallowed magnets:

  • Seek immediate medical attention.

  • Watch for these symptoms—abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Remember that in X-rays, multiple magnetic pieces may appear as a single object.

  • Before buying toys, see our checklist for toy safety.

If you want to report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, call the CPSC’s hotline at (800) 638-2772 or go online to Additional consumer product safety information is available here, and you can join an e-mail subscription list for recalls, hazardous product notices, etc., here.

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Posted On: August 17, 2012

College Kids Need Vaccinations Too

Most parents are familiar with the need to immunize young children to protect against a variety of diseases including polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). As summer wanes and families prepare for a new school year, parents should consider immunizing their older children as well -- especially for meningitis.

As noted by Dr. Peter N. Wenger of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School, “Children who are preparing for their freshman year in a dormitory are at increased risk for bacterial meningitis.”

Meningitis is a serious inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and the spinal cord. It’s caused most often by infection (bacteria, viruses or fungi), but can be caused by cancer, immune system disorders and responses to chemotherapy and some chemical agents. It can lead to permanent disability or death.

Bacterial meningitis can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s fatal for 10 to 14 of 100 cases. Nearly 20 in 100 survivors suffer brain damage, amputation or kidney failure.

Of the approximately 2,600 otherwise healthy people stricken every year with meningitis, teenagers and young adults are at the highest risk.

Meningitis is not as contagious as the flu or the common cold, but populations such as dormitory residents are at greater risk because it spreads through the exchange of respiratory or throat secretions—coughing and kissing. Crowded living conditions and the sharing of utensils, drinking glasses and cigarettes contribute to a welcome environment for these microbes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all first-year college students receive the meningitis vaccine. It’s safe, highly effective and confers 3 to 5 years of protection. Many states require that all incoming students living on college campuses either have a vaccination or sign a waiver stating they choose not to be vaccinated for this disease.

If your college-age child isn’t able to be vaccinated before heading off to school, one of his or her first stops on campus should be the student health center. Wenger recommends that college students also consider these vaccines:

  • HPV (human papilloma virus), which protects against the viruses that cause most cervical cancers, anal cancer, and genital warts;

  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), which is given as a one-time dose to adolescents and adults;

  • hepatitis A, which protects against the serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver;

  • annual immunization against influenza;

  • any vaccines not offered when the child was an infant, such as varicella (chickenpox), if the child has not acquired wild-type chickenpox.

To review childhood immunizations recommended by the CDC, click here. For information about vaccinations for adults, see my newsletter story, “Vaccines: The Neglected Shot of Prevention.”

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Posted On: August 10, 2012

Devices to Protect Children Against Heat Stroke in Cars Found Wanting

We’ve all heard horrific stories of children and animals locked inside a hot car, often to a fatal end. We recounted one such story in Florida a couple of years ago. Although parents and child-care providers are admonished never to leave a child unattended in a car, even briefly, accidents happen.

Between 1998 and 2009, nearly 500 children died from heat stroke after being locked in a vehicle. More than half of the fatalities were children younger than 2. Sometimes, deaths occur when parents or caregivers are unaware that a child has climbed into a car and become trapped.

Enter the market. Devices known as child safety seat monitoring systems were developed to prevent potentially dangerous heat stroke if a child becomes locked in a hot car. But according to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these products are neither reliable nor consistent.

The report is the result of a study by the NHTSA and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), which reviewed three devices. The ChildMinder Smart Clip System, the ChildMinder Smart Pad and the Suddenly Safe Pressure Pad, it warns, can create a false sense of security. (These devices can't address the situation of an adult not knowing when a child has locked him or herself in a car, or when a child is left there intentionally; they must be activated.)

As reported on, there are about 18 similar products on the market. They can be difficult to install, which contributes to their unreliability.

Among the documented problems:

  • inconsistency of the arming sensitivity;

  • variations in the warning signal distance;

  • potential for interference by other electronic devices, such as cellphones;

  • potential for failure if liquid is spilled on them;

  • -potential for failure if the child is out of position.

To address the terrible tragedy of losing a car-bound child to heat stroke, the NHTSA has developed a campaign, “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” It advises:

  • Never leave a child in a vehicle unattended, even if the windows are down, the air conditioning is on or the engine is running.

  • Do not allow children to play in an unattended vehicle.

  • Habitually look in the front and back of the vehicle before locking the door and walking away.

  • Make sure child-care providers call if a child does not show up for care on schedule.

  • Put your cellphone or a stuffed animal in the backseat to remind you that a child is there.
    Make sure the reminder is in the driver’s view.

  • Instruct children not to play in vehicles, and place keys where they cannot reach.

  • If you drop your child off at child care when it’s normally your spouse or partner’s job, have him or her call you to ensure the switch was completed.

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Posted On: August 3, 2012

Genetic Disorders Study Shows Some Doctors Dehumanize Handicapped Babies

In a touching post on titled “Our children are not a diagnosis,” Dr. Keith Barrington, a neonatologist and researcher at Sainte Justine University Health Center in Montréal, responded to a recently published study in the journal Pediatrics about families with children who have trisomy 13 and 18.

Those are chromosomal disorders that cause significant neurodevelopmental disability. Fewer than 1 in 10 babies born with them survives to his or her first birthday. Trisomy 13 occurs in about 1 in 5,000 births. Trisomy 18 occurs in about 1 in 3,000 births, and predominantly among girls. Often, the disorders are treated with palliative measures only—that is, patients are made as comfortable as possible, but not given medical interventions.

Barrington was disturbed by the study’s results not because it challenged assumptions about life with such severely disabled children, but because of what the parents reported about the medical establishment’s attitude toward them.

Caveats about the study concern the fact that survey participants were found through Internet-based support groups and Facebook groups dedicated to trisomy 13 or 18. Surveys were emailed to parents of children born with full or partial forms of the chromosomal disorders. Clearly, they might not represent all parents of children with congenital disorders.

More than 330 parents completed the questionnaire. Some had been given a diagnosis before their babies were born, and others had not. So those with a prenatal diagnosis might have had the option to abort, but did not. The study included only parents whose babies had been born alive.

About half of the parents chose palliative care, one-quarter chose limited medical care after birth and one-quarter wanted full intervention. The length of the children’s survival didn’t differ much among all the families.

Among the study’s findings was that the parents who regretted their choices about the extent of medical intervention were overwhelmingly the ones who had chosen comfort care only. Also, the children did show signs of developmental progress, all were able to communicate with their parents at some level and most parents reported their child as being happy.

But most gratifying was that the parents overwhelmingly reported that the experience of living with their disabled child had made a positive contribution to family life, irrespective of how long their afflicted children lived. The fact that their disorder had created substantial financial stress was irrelevant.

Here’s the disturbing part: Although 2 in 3 of the families met at least one medical provider they described as helpful, most had been given misinformation, and many of those who had chosen active care felt that they were judged negatively by providers for making that decision. They reported that providers often referred to their baby in dehumanizing terms, calling him or her “it” or “a T18.” The parents told of interactions with providers who never learned their baby’s name, only the diagnosis.

To a parent, a child is a child. He or she might be brilliant, disabled, athletically gifted or socially awkward. He or she might be gorgeous or homely, able to engage or closed off in his or her own world. A child with problems is no less a human being than one fortunate enough to be perfectly healthy.

Although adults can make honest mistakes because of ignorance or discomfort, anyone with compassion makes an effort to connect with people not as lucky as they. A person who has chosen medicine as a profession and refers to another damaged person by diagnosis instead of name is less a human being than a wad of protoplasm in desperate need of re-education.
As Barrington concludes, the study highlights “the uniqueness of each of these children and the heterogeneity of condition and survival. …[W]e cannot be definite about the duration of survival or the capacities of an individual.”

The researchers concluded that parents who engage with parental support groups may discover a positive perspective about children with T13 and T18 that might stand in contrast with that of medical practitioners.

Here are Barrington’s guidelines for medical providers when talking with parents who have received a diagnosis, prenatal or postnatal of T-13 or T-18. If you’re a parent in this situation, and your providers fail to observe them, let them know of their deficiencies, and seek help from others who are not so afflicted.

1. Don’t say that this is “‘incompatible with life”; it’s callous, and it’s a lie.

2. Don’t say that if they survive “they will live a life of suffering;” parents do think that their child had more pain than others, but they also had many positive times, and their overall evaluation was positive.

3. Human beings are not vegetables. These children are conscious and interact, even if at very limited levels. Carrots don’t.

4. Don’t predict marital disharmony or family breakdown. There is no evidence that it occurs more when a family has a baby with severe impairments. Families find meaning in the lives of their children. Whether those lives are unimpaired or lived with severe impairments. Whether they are very short or not.

5. Don’t suggest that the child is replaceable. If parents initiate the idea that they can have another child, fine, but for you to suggest it indicates that you think this child is worthless.

6. Don’t say that there is nothing you can do for them. There is a lot you can do. Empathy and a positive attitude, finding resources, respite care and enabling appropriate medical care are among what you have to offer.

7. Be explicit about medical decision making; come to an agreement about the limits of medical interventions (if you can’t, then find them another doctor who can); be open to changing the plan as time goes on.

8. Refer to the child by name if there is one. Some doctors ask prospective parents if they have chosen a name, which demonstrates recognition that a fetus has potential as a human being.

9. Recognize that these babies will be loved, cared for and will leave a positive mark on their families.

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