Recalled Hope Chest Caused Death of Two Children, Years After Warnings
Ten years ago, millions of cedar hope chests were recalled following the deaths of more than half a dozen children. The suffocation deaths of two more children this month in one of those same chests highlights a major problem with product recalls in the United States: the inability to make certain dangerous products are removed from circulation.
On January 12, 8-year-old Lexi Munroe and 7-year-old Sean Munroe, of Franklin, Massachusetts, apparently climbed into a Lane Furniture Company Hope Chest and became trapped inside, suffocating.
The chest, and 12 million like it, were recalled in 1996, after similar reports involving children who climbed inside and then suffocated. A dangerous design feature causes the chests to latch shut automatically when closed, and there is no way to open it from the inside.
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Constructed between 1912 to 1987, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the manufacturer announced the cedar chest recall in 1996, following at least six deaths. The recall was announced again in 2000, following another death and reports of at least two more children who were trapped inside, but able to escape without catastrophic injury.
Despite all those warnings, the chest remained in the Munroe family home, and federal safety regulators are concerned that the item may be found in homes for years to come, as the hope chests are often handed down from one family to the next.
Kids in Danger, a nonprofit organization focused on child-safe products, estimates that only about 30% of all items that are recalled are actually removed from consumers’ homes. That means that as many as 8.4 million of the Lane cedar chests are likely still in consumers’ homes. The organization seeks to get more manufacturers to get it right the first time, instead of relying on recalls to detect faulty products when it is often too late.
Experts say that in many cases, most consumers are completely unaware of recalls involving products in their homes, even when those recalls are massive and repeated several times. Some product safety advocates have pushed for more proactive notification systems that require manufacturers to contact known purchasers of products that have been recalled. This practice is often used in the automotive industry.
The initial Lane cedar chest recall affected all of the company’s cedar chests manufactured before 1987. The company initially replaced the locks on the chests, which latch automatically when closed. The website for the replacement locks is still up, but it is unclear whether the company still replaces the latches. If not, CPSC officials urge everyone to check their homes for these chests and to just throw them away if they cannot get the lock replaced, and not pass them on to others or continue to use them.
Consumers can check to see if their chest is one of those recalled by closing the chest lid without depressing the locking button and then trying to open the lid without touching the button. If the lid opens, the chest is fine. If the lid is latched, throw the chest away.
Consumers with questions can call the CPSC Hotline at (800) 638-2772.
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