Feds, Manufacturers Do Little To Protect Consumers - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: An Alarming Failure

Feds, Manufacturers Do Little To Protect Consumers

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Joan Claybrook, head of the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen Joan Claybrook, head of the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen
Boston deputy fire chief Jay Fleming Boston deputy fire chief Jay Fleming
Harriette Wilson, whose husband died in a house fire Harriette Wilson, whose husband died in a house fire
U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn

If you're like most people, you probably have the wrong kind of smoke detector in your house.

 A NewsChannel 5 investigation exposed how these detectors have been proven to have trouble detecting smoke.

So why are they still being sold? And why aren't consumers being warned?

Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus found there's enough blame to go around.

You expect your smoke detector to warn you in a fire.

But Harriette Wilson, who lost her husband when their house caught on fire three months ago, says of her detector, "It should have gone off. It didn't."

Our investigation found that, for an alarming number of people, their detector fails to go off when they need it most.

Amanda Debuty lost four of her children in a house fire last year.

Kraus asks Debuty, "At what point did you hear your smoke detector?"

Debuty recalls, "Never. They never went off."

She adds, "It was the wrong kind of smoke detector."

Studies show ionization detectors have trouble detecting smoke and may not sound in time, if at all.

Harriette Wilson says, "If they know that these thinks don't work, how can they put them on the shelf and sell them everyday?"

But we found smoke detector manufacturers have received literally hundreds of customer complaints about ionization detectors dating back nearly 20 years.

Joan Claybrook, the head of the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, says, "Nobody is protecting consumers today when it comes to smoke detectors. People are dying all the time because these smoke detectors are inadequate."

Claybrook is outraged that manufacturers refuse to publicly acknowledge the problem with ionization detectors and, more importantly, do anything about it.

"Because they like to keep on manufacturing today what they manufactured yesterday and not make any change or spend any money to change it," Claybrook adds.

Boston deputy fire chief Jay Fleming also believes smoke detector makers have been way to slow to address the issue.

But Fleming believes he knows why it's been this way.

"Who wants to admit that they've made a mistake that's responsible for hundreds, possibly even thousands of deaths," Fleming says.

Fleming helped NewsChannel 5 test smoke detectors and in our test, the ionization detector did not go off until the room was filled with thick smoke.

And our test wasn't the first.

We uncovered video that shows how government scientists with the National Institute of Standards and Technology came to the same conclusion four years ago finding, "Ionization detectors...sometimes fail to alarm in smoldering fires, even when visibility is significantly degraded by smoke."

Chief Fleming states, "This has been documented by everyone who's ever looked at the problem."

In fact, we found that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission expressed serious concerns about these detectors as early as 1995. Yet, the CPSC still hasn't done anything to get them off the market, or at the very least, warn consumers.

"It's a tragedy and a disgrace," says Fleming.

Joan Claybrook agrees. "I call it killing people," she adds.

Claybrook says the problem is that the CPSC has very little power. It can't issue mandatory safety standards or even warn people about defective products.

"The agency ought to be able to tell the public when there's a danger, " Claybrook believes.

A bill before Congress recently would have ordered the CPSC to warn people about ionization detectors.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Middle Tennessee, says the CPSC "should be taking action."

Blackburn was on the House Committee that heard the bill, but she says smoke detector manufacturers were against the legislation.

So, she tells NewsChannel 5, lawmakers softened their stance and instead of mandating a warning about ionization detectors, they asked the CPSC and manufacturers to study the idea of setting new safety standards.

Blackburn explains, "What we're asking them to do is work together to arrive at those standards."

But Joan Claybrook says that's all wrong.

Claybrook says, "The issue has been studied and studied and studied and studied. We don't need any more studies."

These studies, consumer advocates say will take years. And, in the meantime, more Americans will die needlessly.

But while nothing is being done on the federal level, here in Tennessee, state Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, has introduced legislation that would eventually ban ionization detectors.

Turner got interested after taking part in our test and seeing the problems with these detectors for himself.

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