Dec. 15, 2009 -- This morning we have a recall of historic proportions. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the window blind industry are recalling virtually every Roman blind and roller shade on the market -- around 50 million sets -- because the cords pose a strangulation hazard to children.
Five children have died and another 16 have nearly strangled in the cords of the Roman shades and three children's deaths have been linked to roll-up blinds, which is why the CSPC negotiated the massive recall. But the agency said it's frustrated that it was necessary since the products should have been safer in the first place.
The CPSC urged owners of Roman blinds or roll-up shades to call the Window Covering Safety Council for information on the repair kit at (800) 506-4636 or visit www.windowcoverings.org. Consumers can also buy roll-up blinds with a breakaway device that gives way if a child is caught in the cord, or use blinds that do not have cords at all.
In addition to the CPSC's recall, some major retailers are issuing recalls of their own. Walmart issued recalls for 500,000 Roman shades and 600,000 roll-up blinds. JCPenny recalled more than 2.2 million Roman shades and about 340 roll-up blinds. The Pottery Barn recalled about 305,000 Roman shades and 45,000 roller shades.
The Pottery Barn urged owners to "immediately stop using" the recalled blinds and contact Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids or PBTeen or call the Pottery Barn at (800) 492-1949 to receive a free repair kit.
The parents of one of the injured children, Robert and Susan Ursprung, said they believe their son Collier, then one and a half years old, could have been seriously injured or killed had they not walked in on the accident.
"When we opened the door, you could see him standing in his crib with the cord around his neck -- wrapped around three times," Robert Ursprung said. "As he pulled it kept getting tighter."
He said he immediately freed the child from the window shades.
"We just averted a disaster that could have changed our lives forever," he said.
Keeping Your Kids Safe
To help prevent child strangulation in window coverings, the CPSC and the WCSC provided the following guidelines for parents and caregivers to follow:
Take a good look at all shades and blinds in the home and make sure there aren't any accessible cords on the front, side, or back of the blinds. The CPSC and the WCSC recommended using cordless window coverings in all homes where children live or visit.
Do not place cribs, beds and furniture close to the windows. Do not give children a chance to climb on them and gain access to the cords.
Make loose cords inaccessible to children.
If the window shade has looped bead chains or nylon cords, you can install tension devices to keep the cord taut.
CPSC: Turning to Prevention Before Recalls
The CSPC said massive recalls are not the best way to improve product safety and the agency is looking at creating mandatory safety standards that would prevent future problems.
"You will see some more action by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission," Inez Tenenbaum, CPSC chairman, told "Good Morning America." "We are heartbroken when we see cases where children die because of lack of product safety."
There are three main strangulation hazards when children play near these blinds: Roman shades with looped bead chains are one. Children have also gotten entangled in the strings on the back sides of Roman shades. The hazard with roll-up blinds is the lifting loop, which can slide off.
According to Tenenbaum, "any loop is the enemy of children."
Depending where the cord binds a child's neck, the child could die in just seconds.
2009: Year of Big Recalls
All told, today's blinds recall ranks among the largest in history and is the latest in a year of big recalls across several industries.