Drive to Shred Documents Puts Kids and Pets at Risk

By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 9, 2006

As worries about identity theft have driven millions of Americans to buy document-shredding machines, safety officials and pediatricians are warning they can be hazardous, particularly to children and pets.

Since 2000, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 50 reports of injuries from home-shredder machines, including lacerations and amputated fingers. Almost two-thirds of the incidents involved children younger than 5, and some occurred even when there was adult supervision, prompting the agency to issue a safety alert warning parents to never allow children to operate a shredder.

George L. Foltin, director of the Center for Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, saw a 2-year-old girl with a shredder injury: The fingers of her right hand had been crushed and lacerated.

"It was a horrific injury," said Foltin, enough to prompt him to co-author an article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "If you saw one case of smallpox, you don't need to see 10 of them. This was a sentinel event," Foltin said in a telephone interview.

The Pediatrics article urged doctors to ask parents about the presence and accessibility of home shredders. It warned parents to keep shredders in inaccessible locations above toddler height, to keep them unplugged when not in use and to never allow children to operate them, even with adult supervision.

CPSC spokeswoman Patty Davis said the agency also is aware of at least five incidents in which dogs had their tongues caught in shredders. Some of the dogs had to be euthanized, Davis said.

The fact that dogs have been hurt "tells me how amazingly easy it is to injure yourself," Foltin said.

Ted LaVigne of Dale City said his then-2-year-old daughter Dominique got her middle finger caught in the shredder three years ago as his wife was feeding papers into the machine. "My daughter must have latched onto one of the papers," LaVigne said. His wife tried to slowly free her daughter's middle finger, but it wasn't easy and "may have done some more damage," LaVigne said. Two of Dominique's fingers are scarred, and there may be long-term damage; it won't be known until she is older.

In some incidents, children's fingers have become so lodged in the shredder that they had to be pried loose at an emergency room. One such case involved then-5-year-old Jared Lawson, who was using a shredder with his mother's supervision in March 2004. "We were packing and ran out of paper," recalled Jared's mother, Lora Lawson, who lives in a Dallas suburb. As she reached to get more paper, Jared's hand was sucked in. "The screaming that comes with that is something you'll never forget," she said.

Lawson tried to remove Jared's hand but could not. Neither could the paramedics. Jared finally had to be placed under general anesthesia before the shredder could be removed by a tool normally used to break plaster casts. "His fingers looked like ground meat when they came out of the machine; the bones in the third and fourth fingers were crushed and one had been partially amputated."

Patricia Pulido's beagle had his tongue caught in a shredder in the first 30 minutes it was in her house in Arizona. "He was curious, and we're guessing he smelled fresh oil" from the machine, Pulido said. She could not remove the shredder herself; the animal emergency room had to use a hacksaw. The beagle, B.J., now has two little niches on both sides of his tongue. "It almost looks like a snake." And the shredder is no longer in the house. "I shred paper by hand," Pulido said.

But more Americans are using the machines. From 2000 to 2004, shredder sales grew an average of 5 percent a year, to $350 million from $280 million, according to the School, Home and Office Products Association. But in 2005, sales grew by 16 percent, to $406 million.

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