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Eric and Ann Olen thought they had taken every precaution in protecting their baby, including installing child-proof gates, safety plugs in electrical outlets, and moving plants out of reach. But their world came to a crashing halt last June when their 15-month-old daughter Lara became strangled by a loop of inner cord she'd managed to loosen from the blinds that hung on the window over her crib.

"That was the day my world pretty much crumbled," Ann Olen told the Daily Herald in a Sept. 23 article. "We had every safeguard -- or so we thought ... Why aren't there warnings? They give you anything about everything. Except this. Nobody should have to walk in and find their child like that again."

While the government and window manufacturers have brought public attention to the dangers of the cords on window blinds and coverings over the past decade, there is a new push this month to further educate the public as one child a month continues to die after becoming entangled in a window-blind cord. Ten children have died this year through July.

The new emphasis is on the dangers of the inner cords that are used to raise and lower the slats.

After the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission brought the deadly problem to light 10 years ago when babies and toddlers were being strangled by the outer pull cord, window-blind manufacturers redesigned blinds, getting rid of the looped pull cord and providing a free repair kit to modify existing blinds.

Since 1991 there have been 174 reported strangulation deaths stemming from cords and chains on window coverings. Some 152 deaths involved the outer pull cords; 22 were attributed to the inner cords that run through the window blind slats.

In 1999, CPSC began a new investigation of window blind deaths, ultimately finding that children could also become entangled in the inner cords. These entrapments occur when a young child pulls on an inner cord, which can potentially form a loop that a child can hang in.

The CPSC says the outer cord deaths typically occur in children as young as 8 months and up to 6 years old. The inner-cord-related deaths involve younger children -- from nine to 17 months -- whose cribs are placed within reach of the window coverings.

As a result of the CPSC investigation, the industry has further redesigned window blinds. Window blinds sold since November 2000 have attachments on the pull cords so that the inner cords can't form a loop if pulled by a young child. Consumers with blinds bought before November 2000 should repair them.

The CPSC also urges:

  • If you have coverings manufactured before 2001, make sure they're fitted with retrofit cord-repair devices or replaced.
  • Make sure tasseled pull cords are short and continuous-loop cords are permanently anchored to the floor or wall.
  • Lock cords into position when lowering horizontal coverings or shades to prevent inner-cord hazards.
  • To reduce the risk as much as possible, consider cordless coverings.
  • Be aware. Although redesigned newer coverings and older windows that are repaired reduce the risk of strangulation, the hazard still exists. Long dangling cords and chains still pose a risk. Never tie cords or chains together -- the knot creates a new loop that could entangle a child.

    While the CPSC is urging consumers to repair existing window coverings, the agency has additional advice.

    "Consumers should also secure cords and chains so that they are out of children's reach. Cribs and furniture should be kept away from window coverings so that children cannot play with them," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton.

    You can obtain a free repair kit for pre-2001 coverings from the Window Covering Safety Council web site or by calling 1-800-504-4636.

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