June 28, 2012|By Ian Duncan, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Fourteen years after a defective playpen collapsed on 16-month-old Danny Keysar and strangled him at a day care center in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, the federal government has issued strict safety rules designed to stop other children from being killed the same way.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., announced the rules outside the Capitol on Wednesday and introduced Danny's mother, Linda Ginzel, who choked back tears as she described her son's death and her campaign for new child product safety laws.
"It is bittersweet for me to be standing here today," she said. "The fact that strong mandatory standards are now required by law is Danny's legacy and the legacy of other children whose lives have been lost so carelessly, so tragically."
Behind Ginzel a blue Playskool playpen was set up, its top rail collapsed and crushing the neck of an infant dummy to show how her son died in 1998. The design was known to be dangerous — four children had died before Danny — and had been recalled in 1993, but the message never reached his day care center. According to government figures, 1.5 million pens of the same design were made from 1990 to 1997.
The rules announced Wednesday are part of a 2008 consumer safety law, passed after 10 years of campaigning by Ginzel and her husband, Boaz Keysar, and a series of investigative reports by the Tribune into the risks posed by dangerous children's products. The section of the law dealing with children's products is named Danny's Law in honor of their son.
"The tragedy is that Danny wasn't the first child to be lost in this defective play-yard and he wasn't the last," Schakowsky said. "But now there will be no other children."
"What was unacceptable to me was that children were being injured and killed in accidents that were 100 percent preventable," she added. "I couldn't believe that there were no standards in place."
The new rules for playpens require independent tests for stability; to make sure children cannot become trapped; and to check that the pen will not collapse on a child who is inside.
So far, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency responsible for implementing the law, has issued regulations for six types of infant products, and has outlawed the sale of traditional drop-side cribs completely.
But progress under the 2008 law has been slow as each type of product is subject to separate rules, and consumer advocates worry that delays will only lead to more deaths.
Even after the new law passed, at least three children have been killed in defective playpens, becoming tangled in the fabric sides or trapped under part of the pen.
Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger, a Chicago-based nonprofit founded by Ginzel and Keysar, also pushed for rules on playpen accessories after a Chicago-area child was suffocated last year after becoming tangled in a wrongly attached bassinet. Kids in Danger called for the rules to require safety-critical parts of a playpen to be permanently attached so parents cannot make a mistake.
But the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a trade group, urged a delay on rules for attachments and accessories. In a letter to the safety commission this month the group said it needed longer to comment on the proposals.
"We are disheartened but not surprised that manufacturers would stonewall a safety change that leaves babies at risk," Cowles said.
Schakowsky, who first introduced a child product safety bill in Congress in 2001, said the process is frustrating but that the industry can generally be made to come around if it is "dragged kicking and screaming."
Michael Dwyer, the executive director of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, said in a statement that he was "pleased" with the rules, and said the decision to delay introducing rules on accessories showed sensitivity to "practical implementation" of the law.
As for Ginzel, she said she will continue campaigning for other products to be regulated as well as holding on to gains already made, "trying to keep it from all being undone."