WASHINGTON — The head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission conceded Tuesday the agency "hasn't been acting as quickly as it should" on crib safety problems.
Interviewed on morning news shows in the wake of the largest-ever recall of cribs, Chairman Inez Tenenbaum pledged that the CPSC would "firmly but fairly" enforce a law Congress passed last year giving regulators greater authority to police the industry.
More than 2.1 million drop-side cribs by Stork Craft Manufacturing of Canada are being recalled following reports of four infant suffocations. The CPSC said the recall involves 1.2 million cribs in the United States and almost 1 million in Canada, where Stork Craft is based. Sales of the cribs being recalled go back to 1993 and nearly 150,000 of the cribs carry the Fisher-Price logo.
The agency said the drop-side cribs have a side that moves up and down to allow parents to lift children from the cribs more easily. It also said there have been 110 incidents of drop-sides detaching from the cribs.
Asked Tuesday whether people should abandon such cribs, Tenenbaum said she recommends that. And she said consumers also could order plastic kits from the manufacturer to immobilize crib sides.
"The commission will write regulations in the next few months and we will look at this issue about drop-sides," Tenenbaum said. "But I don't think drop-sides will be a part of cribs in the future."
The Stork Craft cribs have had problems with their hardware, which can break, deform or become missing after years. CPSC said there can also be problems with assembly mistakes by the crib owner. These problems can cause the drop-side to detach, creating a dangerous space between the drop-side and the crib mattress, where a child can become trapped.
The cribs, which were manufactured and distributed between January 1993 and October 2009, were sold at major retailers including BJ's Wholesale Club, Sears and Wal-Mart stores and online through Target and Costco. They sold for between $100 and $400, and were made in Canada, China and Indonesia.
Calls to Stork Craft were not immediately returned.
This is the second big recall this year for the company. It recalled about 500,000 cribs in January because of problems with the metal brackets that support the mattress. Some of the same models in the earlier recall were also part of Monday's announcement, CPSC said.
Tenenbaum was asked why federal regulators hadn't stepped in sooner.
"We have just not been acting as quickly as we should have at the Consumer Product Safety Commission on these types of incidents," she replied. "I have just been appointed a few months ago to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission and this case came in front of me just a few weeks ago."
Consumer advocates have complained for years about drop-side cribs. More than 5 million of them have been recalled over the past two years alone — recalls that were associated with the deaths of a dozen young children.
ASTM International, an organization that sets voluntary industry safety standards for everything from toys to the steel used in commercial buildings, approved a new standard last week that requires four immovable, or fixed, sides for full-size cribs — essentially eliminating the manufacture of drop-side cribs.
CPSC is also considering new rules for making cribs safer and could adopt the ASTM voluntary standard as a mandatory one, outright banning the cribs.
Nancy Cowles, executive director of Chicago-based Kids In Danger, said the agency must include more rigorous testing for crib durability. "Parents should be able to trust that their child is safe in their crib," said Cowles.
Toys"R''Us started phasing out drop-side cribs earlier this year and will no longer carry them next month.
In the Stork Craft recall, the manufacture date, model number, crib name, country of origin, and the firm's name, address and contact information are located on the assembly instruction sheet attached to the mattress support board. The firm's insignia "storkcraft baby" or "storkling" is inscribed on the drop-side teething rail of some cribs.
Consumers can contact the company, 877-274-0277, to order the free repair kit, or log on to www.storkcraft.com.