Chicago could become the first city in the country to ban the sale of crib bumper pads if the City Council approves an ordinance introduced today.
Ald. James Balcer, 11th, and George Cardenas, 12th, introduced the ordinance in response to a series of Tribune investigations that found babies have suffocated against bumper pads. The products, which wrap around the inside of a crib and tie to crib slats, are often sold as part of coordinated bedding sets.
“We need to ban them altogether or get the manufacturers to build them so they can’t cause any harm,” said Cardenas, chairman of the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection.
“I have two young daughters,” he added. “Anyone who has kids can only imagine something happening to them. It would be too tragic. … This is something we have to jump on and do something about.”
The state of Maryland is considering a similar proposal to ban the sale of bumper pads, and the federal agency responsible for regulating consumer products — the Consumer Product Safety Commission — says it continues to investigate the issue.
In December the Tribune reported that federal regulators have failed to warn parents that bumpers pose a suffocation risk even though they know about the potential hazard.
It's unclear exactly how many babies have died from suffocating against the products, but the Tribune found that the federally funded National Center for Child Death Review has since 2008 received 14 reports of infant suffocation in which a bumper was relevant in the death.
Federal regulators have said they are trying to determine if there is a scientific link between bumper pads and suffocations, or if factors such as blankets, pillows or medical issues played the primary role in the deaths. Babies often lack the motor skills and strength to turn their heads if they roll against something that blocks their breathing.
In a statement, the trade group that represents the makers and sellers of bumper pads said the city of Chicago should focus on educating parents about how to create a safe sleep environment for babies instead of warning against bumpers.
“There is no evidence of a causal connection between crib bumpers and suffocation, when the product is used as intended,” the statement from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association said.
But in March, the Tribune reported that federal officials have investigated at least a dozen deaths where bumpers appeared to play a role.
In those fatalities, the safety agency has said, bumpers were not clearly the culprit because other items, such as blankets or pillows, were also in the crib. But the Tribune found that in many of those cases, the babies who died had their faces pressed into bumper pads.
The Tribune also found at least 17 additional cases in which the Consumer Product Safety Commission did not investigate a child's death even though the agency had reports on file suggesting bumper pads played roles in the fatalities. The Tribune looked into some of the cases and found that medical examiners and coroners said bumper pads were involved in the suffocations.
Bumpers were originally made to cover spaces between crib slats that were too far apart. Regulations changed in the 1970s, mandating that slats be spaced closely enough that babies wouldn't fall out or get their heads caught. But bumpers are still widely sold.
Cardenas said a hearing on the proposed ban could come later this month, before the council breaks for its August recess.
Earlier this year, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan urged the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association to tell its members to stop manufacturing and selling crib bumpers because they pose a suffocation risk to infants.