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Outrage of the Month: Industry Greed, Three Decades of CPSC Foot-Dragging Contribute to Rising Death Toll in Children

Health Letter, May 2015

By Michael Carome, M.D.


If you’re not outraged,
you’re not paying attention!

Read what Public Citizen has to say about the biggest blunders and outrageous offenses in the world of public health, published monthly in Health Letter.

On April 16, the online publication FairWarning published a disturbing investigative expose describing the staggering number of young children killed or maimed by window blind cords: Over the past three decades, at least 332 children — most younger than age 2 — have died and 165 have been injured due to strangulation by these dangerous products.[1] Some of the injured children have suffered permanent brain injury or paralysis, requiring lifelong care.[2]

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) first documented window blind cords as a leading cause of preventable strangulation deaths in children as early as 1981, when a CPSC staff report on accidental strangulation of children under age 5 found that window covering cords were one of the most frequently identified consumer products linked to these tragic events.[3] Nevertheless, until late last year, the agency had taken little meaningful action to eliminate the threat, and these dangerous products are still marketed today across the country.

Rather than using its authority years ago to issue regulations that ultimately would have led to a ban on the sale of these child death traps, the CPSC for decades implemented inadequate half-measures. According to FairWarning, other than a few limited recalls of certain window blind models, the agency repeatedly has deferred to the window blind industry, allowing it to develop a series of voluntary safety standards intended to prevent child strangulation.[4] These voluntary standards included elimination of looped cords and addition of warnings about child strangulation risk to product packaging.

But these measures have not stemmed the rising death toll: FairWarning reported that window blind cords continue to kill young children at the rate of almost one a month.[5]

The window blind industry steadfastly has resisted stronger measures. James Odner, an attorney who has represented families of children killed or injured by window blinds in more than 50 lawsuits against the industry, told FairWarning, “[Window blind companies] are not going cordless because they want to protect their profit margins. The industry has made a conscious decision that it is cheaper to pay off a lawsuit than it is to save human lives [by eliminating corded blinds].” [6]

In 2013, fed up with inadequate CPSC action, Public Citizen joined eight other consumer groups and advocates in petitioning the agency to issue mandatory standards that would eliminate the hazard to children posed by window blind cords.[7] Specifically, we requested a mandatory standard that prohibits any cords where a cordless alternative exists, and for instances where a cordless alternative does not exist, requires that all cords be designed to make them inaccessible to children.

Last October, the CPSC granted the petition and began the process for issuing a rule that would implement the mandatory standard requested.[8] However, because the regulatory process will take several years to complete and because unsafe window blinds are already found in millions of homes across the U.S., more children may die unnecessarily.

For too long, window blind companies have put profits ahead of child safety, and the CPSC failed to take the necessary action to eliminate the sale of corded window blinds that kill and maim young children. Fortunately, under new leadership, the CPSC finally is moving in the right direction. It is imperative that the agency stay its new course, rebuff industry efforts to delay and weaken any final rule, and implement as quickly as possible a mandatory safety standard that will save the lives of hundreds of children in the future. Tell the CPSC you support a mandatory safety standard for window blinds by going to http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=CPSC-2013-0028-1418 and submitting a comment by June 1.


[1] Schmitt R. Years of talking, kids still dying. April 16, 2015. FairWarning. http://www.fairwarning.org/2015/04/as-window-blind-cords-strangle-toddlers-reforms-are-left-dangling/. Accessed April 16, 2015.


[3] Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC warns of the danger of children strangulation in window blind or drapery cords. December 20, 1985. http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Newsroom/News-Releases/1985/CPSC-Warns-of-The-Danger-Of-Children-Strangulation-In-Window-Blind-Or-Drapery-Cords/. Accessed April 17, 2015.

[4] Schmitt R. Years of talking, kids still dying. April 16, 2015. FairWarning. http://www.fairwarning.org/2015/04/as-window-blind-cords-strangle-toddlers-reforms-are-left-dangling/. Accessed April 16, 2015.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Parents for Window Blind Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, et al. 16 CFR § 1051 petition for rulemaking eliminating accessible cords on window covering products. http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/window-covering-petition-final.pdf. Accessed April 17, 2015.

[8] Consumer Product Safety Commission. Advanced notice of proposed rulemaking: Corded window coverings; request for comments and information. January 16, 2015. 80 FR 2327-2350. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-01-16/pdf/2015-00566.pdf. Accessed April 17, 2015.