CHICAGO -- Pointing to "an inexcusable time lag," Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat, has asked the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to explain why the agency took more than two years and the deaths of three infants before it recalled 1 million cribs for design and hardware flaws.
In the wake of reports in the Chicago Tribune that the agency failed to fully investigate the death of a 9-month-old boy in California in 2005, Durbin sent a letter on Tuesday to Nancy Nord, acting head of the agency, demanding a detailed timeline of events going back to 2003 when the commission received the first complaint about a drop rail problem in a crib manufactured by Simplicity Inc.
Last Friday, Simplicity and the CPSC announced the recall of 12 models of cribs sold by the company under its name as well as the Graco brand name from 1998 until May 2007.
The Tribune reported that after Liam Johns died in Citrus Heights, Calif., in April 2005, a CPSC investigator assigned to look into the matter failed to identify the crib, and so the boy's death from suffocation when he was trapped between a faulty drop rail and the mattress was never linked to a Simplicity product.
The CPSC finally picked up the crib last week after the newspaper informed the agency of its investigation.
In announcing the recall, the CPSC said it had received reports of three deaths, seven infants trapped and 55 other incidents relating to faulty drop rail hardware and design. In all three deaths, parents had unwittingly installed the drop rails upside down.
"The fact that it has taken more than four years from the date of the first incident report and more than two years since the first report of an infant's death to announce a recall of these products is alarming," Durbin said in the letter.
"It is unacceptable for the public to have to rely on journalists for this commission to act in a timely fashion."
The Tribune's investigation of the cribs was part of the newspaper's Hidden Hazards series, which has documented how the understaffed and sluggish CPSC fails to protect children from dangers in toys and other products.
Earlier this year, after disclosures of the agency's botched recalls of Magnetix Magnetic Building sets and the death of a child in Washington who swallowed magnets that fell out of the toys, Durbin held hearings and introduced legislation intended to boost the CPSC's authority and staff.
Maurice Possley writes for the Chicago Tribune.