Blind danger: I-Team goes undercover to expose hidden threat

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team investigated blinds with cords that could injure or kill children, and the battle over removing some blinds from store shelves.

The I-Team brought a hidden camera into four major retailers to see what they would tell us about blinds with cords and buying those blinds for a home with young children.

Peggy Miller spoke about the day her life changed forever. The blinds are now gone from her children's bedroom in Kenosha.

"And I found my son hanging on the pull cord," Miller said. "Where's his color, he won't answer me. I got him down, I called 911."

One of her three sons, 5-year-old Jonathan, died in 2012 when he was strangled in the blind's cords.

ABC7's Jason Knowles says: "And you never would've thought that cords on blinds would've killed your child."

"Absolutely not," Miller said. "And these are the kinds of things you don't think about."

Chilling video from 2002 captures a terrified Nebraska mother dropping the camera and running to her son after he was choking on their blind's cords.

"My son, he choked himself," the mother says on the home video.

Gavin Walla, now a thriving teenager, knows he's a lucky survivor.

"It's always unsettling to me, seeing me in the background there," Walla said.

All blinds have warning labels, but the I-Team found some sales clerks may not know how serious the danger is.

At a northwest Indiana Lowes, the clerk first offered us both blinds with cords and cordless blinds for a child's room. This is what the clerk said, only after we expressed concerns about the cords.

Producer: "And is that what you would recommend for a kid's room?"
Clerk: "Mmhmm, yeah."
Producer: "The cordless?"
Clerk: "Yeah."

At a nearby Walmart and Home Depot, they suggested we raise the cords.

"So instead of like cutting it or something, just tie it up higher and maybe make a knot, so you can still use it. That's my best suggestion," the clerk at Walmart said.

"You can always take the cord and you can hang it higher, so they can't get to it," said the clerk at Home Depot.

They didn't offer the cordless option until our producer asked. Those companies all told us they're increasing efforts to educate consumers and sales associates. They also have plans to phase out corded blinds by 2018.

This Target was only selling cordless blinds. Target and Ikea recently announced they would stop selling blinds with cords. The Consumer Product Safety Commission's chairman says he's been meeting with retailers and making it his mission to get cords off all store shelves.

There's also this 2014 CPSC petition, seeking the removal of all accessible cords from window coverings.

"These incidents occur in the rooms parents think are the safest," said Elliot Kay, Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The CPSC says since 1996, there have been almost 1,600 children under 5 treated for injuries and estimates that nearly one child per month dies, from window blind cords.

The Window Cover Manufacturers Association disputes that one death a month figure, saying that numbers have been steadily declining in recent years. The industry has also made changes since ABC 7's Kathy Brock reported on the issue in 1994.

Manufacturers created breakaway cords and started offering devices to hang cords, but the CPSC says it hasn't been enough.

"Our staff has proven it doesn't save lives, the only way to save lives is to get rid of the accessible cords, period," Kay said.

But the manufacturers say more than half of blinds are still corded because they are cheaper and there is still a demand. They say wiping those off the market would cost jobs and devastate the industry.

Peggy Miller believes cordless blinds would have prevented her tragedy. Miller says she threw her blinds out shortly after the 2012 accident.

The industry representing blind manufacturers said it works closely with the CPSC to reduce risks and that current U.S. standards are the most stringent in the world. They also say they fund a public education program, but admit that cordless blinds or ones with inaccessible cords should be used in homes with children.

ABC News' Brian Ross will have more on this investigation Friday on ABC News and on Nightline at 11:35 p.m.
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