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Published June 28, 2011, 01:29 PM

New crib standards toughest in world; donating, selling substandard baby beds illegal

Starting Tuesday, it became illegal in the U.S. to sell or even donate a crib that fails to meet the toughest crib safety rules in the world.

By: McClatchy Newspapers, INFORUM

Starting Tuesday, it became illegal in the U.S. to sell or even donate a crib that fails to meet the toughest crib safety rules in the world.

Newly required safety tests are so stringent that few cribs in American homes — even those that have escaped recall after recall — are sturdy enough to pass them. As a result, federal regulators recommend that families that can afford to do so should buy new cribs and destroy their old ones.

“I know times are tough, but I always felt like the price of a crib is minuscule compared to the price of your child's life,” said Susan Cirigliano, a Long Island, N.Y., mother who has pushed for tougher standards after her son Bobby died in a defective crib in 2004. “I was a normal mom raising her kids. Never in a million years would I have thought that could happen to me.”

Over the last four years, Tribune investigations have reported that a product supposed to be the safest item in the nursery — the one place where a parent can leave an infant unattended for hours — had become a deathtrap for some babies thanks to bad designs, defective hardware and flimsy parts.

Those stories prompted congressional hearings and recalls, and ultimately led to the new standards.

The new rules address all of the major hazards that have killed infants in recent years, including traditional sides that move up and down. While convenient for parents, those so-called “drop sides” too often broke, creating deadly gaps in which babies got trapped, including Bobby Cirigliano. Drop sides are now forbidden.

The law effectively eliminates the secondhand market for cribs — at least for the near future — because on Tuesday it became illegal to sell a crib that fails to meet the new standards. It will likely take more than a year for the new cribs to find their way to garage sales and auction sites as hand-me-downs.

In addition to checking stores that sell new cribs, Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, says his agency will be monitoring eBay, craigslist and other sites to make sure older cribs don't get resold.

Under the new standard, labeling will make it easier to assemble a crib without missing a key step. Many babies died when the sides of their cribs were put on upside down, leaving the beds structurally unsound. The new rules mandate that sides clearly show which way is up or that they function well both ways.

A new battery of tests will better simulate the long life of a crib, finding screws that come loose, mattress supports that separate and slats that break. Each of those hazards can create a deadly gap that babies’ tiny bodies can slip through. When their heads get caught, they can hang to death or otherwise suffocate.

The old rules allowed manufacturers to tighten screws between different tests. Under the new ones, the crib has to pass all of them without any adjustments along the way. In one test, the crib is pushed repeatedly in eight different directions for a total of 72,000 movements to simulate wear and tear. Separately, a 45-pound weight is dropped on the mattress support 750 times.

“These new cribs are going to be so much better than what's out there in terms of the testing,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger, a Chicago-based consumer advocacy nonprofit that has pushed for tougher crib tests for more than a decade.

The biggest challenge for parents will be to verify that the crib they are buying meets the new rules. There is no standard label to distinguish a crib made under the new rules from an older one. Parents should not rely on a simple label that says the crib “meets or exceeds” federal and voluntary standards; millions of cribs recalled for deadly hazards carried such assurances.

Manufacturers are required to provide a certificate to retailers that lists where and when samples of their crib models were tested under the new standards. Although the law doesn't require retailers to provide these certificates to customers, safety commission spokesman Wolfson says consumers can ask for them if they want documented proof that the cribs meet the new rules.

But Target, Wal-Mart and Babies ‘R’ Us — among the largest sellers of cribs — told the Tribune they don't plan to provide these certificates in stores. All three chains said the models in their stores and sold on their websites meet the new standards, and all said they have programmed registers to block sales if any older cribs slip through the cracks.

A Target spokeswoman said its customers will have to contact manufacturers for the certificates. A Walmart spokeswoman said the chain does not plan to provide them but might devise a system for doing so if enough customers start asking for them.

Customers at Babies ‘R’ Us and Toys ‘R’ Us starting Tuesday can request the certificates from the chain's guest services phone line, which will work with the company's safety team to obtain them, a corporate spokeswoman said.

Cowles, of Kids In Danger, recommends that consumers demand proof in writing. “I would not buy a crib if the retailer can't show you proof that it meets that mandatory standard,” Cowles said. “I would not take people's word for it.”

While stores have known this day was coming for six months, some smaller retailers last week asked federal regulators to give them more time to sell off their inventory of older cribs. In a 3 to 2 vote, the safety commission denied that request.

On Sunday, Cirigliano and another New York mom whose son died in a crib that broke organized a charity walk on New York's Long Island to draw attention to the new crib rules.

“I know we've saved a lot of lives doing this,” Cirigliano said of the new safety standard. “The thing I'm happy about is I'll never know how many. That's the greatest thing in the world not to know.”

CRIB Q & A

Q: How do I know if the crib I'm buying meets the new tougher standards?

A: Ask if the crib meets “16 CFR 1219,” the law for full-size cribs, or “16 CFR 1220,” the law for those of nonstandard sizes. Don't trust simple labels that say cribs meet or exceed federal standards, as older and recalled cribs carried those labels.

Manufacturers must provide to retailers a certificate that states when and where samples of their cribs were tested. Stores aren't required to provide the certificates to shoppers, but federal regulators say anyone who wants proof should ask for them. Nancy Cowles, executive Director of Kids In Danger, recommends that parents ask for proof in writing, rather than relying on a salesperson's assurances.

Q: I'm short and really wanted a drop-side crib. Now that it's illegal to sell one, what should I do?

A: Manufacturers are making some models of fixed-side cribs where the top rail is lower to the ground, so you don't have to break your back or be 6 feet tall to easily set down a sleeping baby. These are sometimes called “low profile” cribs.

Q: I'm an expectant parent and can't afford a new crib. My neighbor is offering me her son's crib. Why shouldn't I take it?

A: Second-hand cribs can be deadly, especially if the assembly directions or the original hardware is lost. Retailers, including Walmart and Babies ‘R’ Us, are offering models for less than $100, and many of them convert to toddler beds. There are ways to shave that amount from your nursery budget, such as by opting for a fitted crib sheet — often less than $10 — rather than a far more expensive bedding set that includes bumper pads and a quilt, both of which safety advocates say you should avoid anyway. You also don't need a changing table. Some families find it easier to change a baby on the floor.

Q: Are cribs more expensive now?

A: The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association said it costs about 10 percent more for materials to make a crib under the new rules, but many stores are still offering affordable models.

Q: I have the crib my daughter outgrew. It worked well for her. Should I use it for the baby I'm expecting or buy a new one?

A: Regulators recommend you buy a new one. The new rules are the toughest in the world and include tests that are far more stringent than those that your crib went through. Some of the deaths in cribs in recent years happened after parents took their cribs apart, stored them and rebuilt them for subsequent children. Some of those parents said the crib seemed fine until the moment it broke and killed their child.

Q: My baby is a toddler and will transition out of his crib in the coming months. I don't want to buy a new crib. How can I make sure the crib I'm using is safe?

A: Go to recalls.gov to make sure your model isn't one of 11 million cribs that have been recalled in recent years. If you have a drop-side crib, check to see if your manufacturer will provide hardware that immobilizes that side. Every time you change your toddler's crib sheet, tighten all screws and check that the sides and mattress platform have not separated in any place. Keep your eye out for gaps, which can be deadly. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a helpful video with more safety tips at this site

Q: My crib was expensive, and I want to get some money for it. Why can't I sell it?

A: Unless your crib meets the new federal crib standard, which is unlikely unless you bought it in recent weeks, it's illegal to sell it or even to donate it.

Q: I bought a crib two weeks ago and now realize it doesn't meet the new rules. What can I do?

A: Unfortunately, retailers were allowed to sell off their old inventory until Tuesday. Check your store's return policy to see whether they'll take it back.

Q: I want to throw out my old crib but am worried somebody may take it. What should I do?

A: Take your old crib apart and throw it out in pieces — one side one week, one side another week — so that nobody can rebuild it from the parts left on the curb or in the trash bin.


Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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