Safety advocates are pressing federal regulators to make Ikea stop selling a popular line of bedroom dressers, after a Minnesota toddler became the third child in two years to die when his dresser toppled onto him.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a coalition representing four groups said buyers of the Malm line should be allowed to return them for a full refund.
It also scolded the safety commission and the retailer over Ikea's decision to keep selling the dressers, despite knowing they fail to meet industry-accepted stability standards.
"To learn that a tipping Ikea Malm dresser killed yet another child, when the company and the CPSC chose not to do a recall after the first two deaths, is beyond heartbreaking - it's unacceptable," the advocates wrote.
The letter was signed by representatives from the Consumer Federation of America, a network of non-profit consumer groups; Consumers Union, the policy and action division of Consumer Reports; the National Center for Health Research, a Washington think tank; and Kids in Danger, a non-profit focused on children's product safety.
The Inquirer reported last week that 22-month-old Ted McGee of Apple Valley, Minn. died in February when his 6-drawer Malm dresser tipped onto him. The CPSC is investigating McGee's death.
In a statement Wednesday, Ikea spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss said the company, in response to the most recent death, is working with the safety agency "on additional actions that we can take."
She did not elaborate.
The toddler died seven months after the commission and Ikea acknowledged the company's dressers can become dangerously unstable if not attached to the wall. At the time, they cited the deaths of two other children since 2014, including a West Chester 2-year-old.
Announcing a "repair program," Ikea said it would send anchoring kits to consumers who requested them and launch a public awareness campaign. It did not offer to take the product back.
The program covered 27 million dressers, 7 million of them Malms. Ikea has since sent out 300,000 anchoring kits, about a 1-percent response rate.
The action is technically a type of recall, but Ikea and the CPSC - who negotiated the agreement behind closed doors - did not call it one, something advocates at the time said would lessen its impact.
McGee's parents had not heard of the repair program, according to their lawyers.
In their letter, the advocates say the safety agency needs to take further action - and to this time call it a recall. Ikea should be required to stop selling Malm dressers and provide refunds, they said. To increase use of the anchors, Ikea should also "provide an incentive for consumers to anchor their furniture," they wrote.
Elliot Kaye, the safety agency's chairman, is barred from commenting on the Malm repair program due to a federal law that blocks the agency from discussing a company without that company's prior consent. In a statement Wednesday, Kaye said he agreed that "more needs to be done, quickly, to protect innocent children from the hidden hazard of furniture tip-overs."
"Companies are on notice that even if there has been a public announcement about a remedy to address a dangerous product, the company must take every possible step to prevent further harm," he said. "This is especially the case when a child dies."
Furniture tip-overs - most often involving unsecured dressers and televisions - are blamed for dozens of deaths nationwide and more than 38,000 emergency-room visits a year.
Liss, the Ikea spokeswoman, on Wednesday repeated that the company believes the best way to prevent tip-overs of its dressers is to attach the products to the wall. The company also has said it plans to expand its public education campaign.
Safety advocates argue that when it comes to Malm dressers, educating consumers and providing wall anchors at the point-of-sale, as Ikea does, isn't enough because the dresser is inherently unstable and doesn't meet the industry-accepted standard for stability.
That standard, designed to make sure dressers are stable even when tip restraints aren't used, requires that a dresser remain upright when a 50-pound weight is hung on an extended drawer.
In their letter, Cowles and the other advocates said it's possible McGee would not have died if Malm dressers met the standard.
"The furniture is unsafe," said Cowles. "The weight of a 22-month-old baby was enough to tip it."