BALTIMORE (AP) - Maryland proposed the first statewide ban on the sale of crib bumper pads Tuesday, with health officials saying they pose unnecessary risks to infants.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's informal proposal for a ban stems from a four-member task force's recommendation in May that the state declare crib bumpers a hazard because they can suffocate or strangle babies. The ban, if approved, would take effect Jan. 1, 2013, and would exclude the sale of bumper pads for older children or for those who have special needs.
State health officials already discourage the use of crib bumpers as part of an effort to promote safe sleep for infants that encourages parents to put infants to sleep alone, on their backs and in a crib.
"We found that these products do pose a rare, but real risk of serious injury to a small infant," health secretary Joshua Sharfstein said, noting that the product is only intended to be used until the baby can pull itself up.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been taking a look at the safety of crib bumpers and expects to share its findings with a panel of experts, said agency spokesman Scott Wolfson. Earlier this month, the Chicago City Council banned the sale of crib bumper pads, but Maryland's proposal is the first by a state in the nation. Sharfstein said the CPSC has been supportive and he hopes the state's inquiry is helpful to federal officials.
The department will consider public comments made by Nov. 4 as it decides whether to pursue a formal proposal.
"No one has a monopoly on safety," he said. "Sometimes things move faster on the state level, but everyone has a responsibility to be thoughtful."
The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association urged Maryland to adopt new standards for crib bumper pads instead of banning them outright. The trade organization of more than 250 companies in the United States, Canada and Mexico argued that properly designed bumper pads can help prevent limb entrapment and head injuries when used correctly.
Because infants don't stir up the air around them by breathing as much as adults, and may need higher oxygen levels, infants are at risk of asphyxiation just by depleting the oxygen in the still air around them, according to Chief Medical Examiner David Fowler. A crib bumper could contribute to creating such a situation, he said.
"A child doesn't have to have anything pressing up against them, just be close enough to them to restrict the air flow," he said. Fowler's department found that a bumper contributed to one infant death in Maryland and that a bumper was present in nine deaths likely caused by asphyxia.
Task-force members argued that research shows most babies can't exert enough force to hurt themselves and bumpers do more harm than good. The panel could not find any evidence that bumpers protected infants from bruising or head injuries and the only benefit they could find was cosmetic, Howard County Health Officer Dr. Peter Beilenson said.
"The bottom line is that the evidence is only there for cosmetic effect," he said. "A single baby's death for cosmetic effect is unacceptable."