WESTFIELD, NJ — A piece of information that a government agency mistakenly released revealed a horrifying situation: babies were dying in a certain type of infant sleeper and nobody had told public.
The information obtained from the Consumer Products Safety Commission led Rachel Rabkin Peachman, a Westfield resident and deputy of special products at Consumer Reports, to write a series of articles revealing the danger infant inclined sleepers posed, and how Fisher-Price hid those dangers.
“This data was shocking and horrifying,” Peachman said. “It confirmed 19 deaths but, really, based on our additional reporting and analysis of the data, it was almost 29 deaths.”
“We could not ignore this finding. It was a matter of public safety,” said Peachman, the mother of two girls ages 11 and 8. “We just had to figure out what was going on and get the word out.”
Peachman’s reporting for Consumer Reports would eventually uncover at least 73 deaths linked to the sleepers' use over 10 years.
Click here to read Peachman’s work for Consumer Reports on infant inclined sleepers.
The work did not come without challenges. After the CPSC released data it had not intended, it sought to prevent Consumer Reports from using that information for publication since the government agency is prohibited from releasing product and company information without the companies’ approval, Peachman said.
“There were legal letters and very uncomfortable interactions with this government agency,” she said. “But it was not against the law for us to use this information once we had it.”
What followed were 21 articles on infant inclined sleepers reported and written over the course of 10 months, resulting in the recalls of at least 5 million products with four major retailers removing the sleepers from their shelves, Peachman said.
She sifted through lawsuits and interviewed the parents of children who had died while in the sleepers.
“As the months and years passed, the number of deaths related to the sleepers increased,” Peachman writes in a Dec. 30 Consumer Reports article. “They were largely hidden from the public but reported privately to the CPSC by manufacturers, hospitals and consumers.”
The reporting brought attention the need for better regulation, she told TAPinto Westfield.
“This really brought to light the fact that products can get out there without much safety testing or any safety testing, and the market isn’t going to correct itself,” Peachman said. “So, it seems that there need to be stricter regulations in place.”
Subsequent to Consumer Reports investigating, the federal Safe Sleep for Babies Act proposed a ban on the manufacture, import and sale of the infant inclined sleepers. The bill awaits Senate approval, Peachman said.
“It would require that sleep products be vetted, safe and fit to a standard that’s a tougher standard than we have right now,” she said.
Even if the products are not outright banned, Peachman urges caution.
“I hear a lot of people saying, ‘it worked great for me and it’s probably fine,’” she said. “It was fine for many people, but that doesn’t mean it is a risk you should be taking.”
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