Deaths prompt cloth­ing bin changes

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Her screams alerted help, but it came too late to save the 35-yearold Toronto woman trapped in the chute of a cloth­ing do­na­tion box early Tues­day morn­ing.The woman, iden­ti­fied only as Crys­tal, was dead by the time fire­fight­ers were able to cut her from the League For Hu­man Rights drop box.The death marks the sec­ond time in only eight days that a Cana­dian has died while ap­par­ently try­ing to re­move items from a cloth­ing-do­na­tion bin.It’s the third such Cana­dian death since Novem­ber, and at least the sev­enth since 2015.With crit­ics re­fer­ring to the bins as “death traps,” char­i­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are tak­ing dras­tic ac­tion to pre­vent more fa­tal­i­ties.Di­a­betes Canada an­nounced last week it is retrofitting all its cloth­ing-do­na­tion bins to pre­vent death or in­jury in cases of mis­use. In­clu­sion B.C. is re­mov­ing all 146 of its B.C. bins, de­spite the ex­pected rev­enue and job losses. The City of West Van­cou­ver has or­dered all its do­na­tion bins locked, while Burn­aby, B.C., is ask­ing for all bins to be re­moved from within its city lim­its.The rash of cloth­ing bin deaths seems to be uniquely Cana­dian. A search of news head­lines from the past few years found only a hand­ful of in­stances of bin deaths in Europe and the United States, de­spite their much larger pop­u­la­tions.The prob­lem also seems to be a rel­a­tively re­cent phe­nom­e­non.As re­cently as 2014, a per­son get­ting stuck in­side a do­na­tion bin was so rare — and seemed so be­nign — that it was cause for jokes. “I think they should have left him in there, per­son­ally,” one East Van­cou­verite told a CTV News crew af­ter a man in his 20s be­came trapped in­side the main com­part­ment of a bin for the De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion.The next year, a well-known home­less ad­vo­cate named Anita Hauck was killed in a Pitt Mead­ows cloth­ing-do­na­tion bin as she tried to grab a jacket and a blan­ket for a fel­low res­i­dent of a nearby tent city.Ever since, Canada has not man­aged to go more than a few months with­out some­one be­ing fa­tally in­jured by a cloth­ing bin, with count­less more in­stances of peo­ple hav­ing to be res­cued. The Van­cou­ver area has seen the ma­jor­ity of in­ci­dents, although deaths have oc­curred in Cal­gary and Cam­bridge, Ont.All vic­tims were home­less or suf­fer­ing from ad­dic­tion is­sues, and ap­peared to have been try­ing to re­move cloth­ing from the bins. “She climbed to get cloth­ing and got hung up and suc­cumbed to her in­juries,” as­sis­tant Van­cou­ver Fire Chief David Boone said af­ter a woman was killed by a bin in the city’s West Point Grey neighbourhood.They all died up­side down; trapped in the bin’s chute with their feet stick­ing out. Some vic­tims were not found un­til hours af­ter their death. Oth­ers man­aged to scream for help but could not be ex­tracted in time to save their lives.The vic­tims do not ap­pear to have been seek­ing shel­ter in the boxes. In fact, most cloth­ing-bin deaths have oc­curred in sum­mer.All the bins in­volved in fa­tal­i­ties have op­er­ated much like a stan­dard Canada Post mail­box: A drawer folds down to ac­cept do­na­tions and a se­cu­rity flap swings into place to pre­vent theft from the box.By try­ing to climb in, some­one can be­come pinched be­tween the drawer and the se­cu­rity flap and sus­pended up­side down within the bin.“It’s far more haz­ardous than it may seem on the sur­face,” Jonathan Gormick, a spokesman with Van­cou­ver Fire Res­cue, told CBC in mid-2018.Most deaths are due to res­pi­ra­tory im­pair­ment. The drawer mech­a­nism con­stricts the vic­tim’s torso, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to breathe. Be­ing held up­side down for long pe­ri­ods can also be fa­tal in it­self; the vic­tim can as­phyx­i­ate from the pres­sure of their or­gans weigh­ing down on their lungs, or they can suf­fer a stroke as blood pools in their head.Although the Cana­dian in­ci­dents have all been re­mark­ably sim­i­lar, bins can also kill by other means. In 2012, a woman in Staten Is­land, N.Y., had suc­cess­fully en­tered the main com­part­ment of a cloth­ing-do­na­tion bin, but was stran­gled as she at­tempted to exit.A par­tic­u­larly un­usual fa­tal­ity oc­curred in 2017 in Natalie, Penn. The vic­tim, Ju­dith Per­mar, was not a home­less per­son but was known to have a his­tory of steal­ing from do­na­tion bins. On one such 2 a.m. run, Per­mar fell off a lad­der that she was us­ing to ac­cess a bin, catch­ing her arm in the chute. The im­pact broke her arm and wrist, leav­ing her dan­gling in ex­treme pain, and she sub­se­quently died of ex­po­sure.Many of the Cana­dian bins killing peo­ple have re­tained the same de­sign for decades with­out in­ci­dent. Rangeview Fab­ri­cat­ing, a Toronto-based com­pany that has man­u­fac­tured some of the bins in­volved in fa­tal in­ci­dents, said Tues­day that its bins have op­er­ated with­out in­ci­dent for most of the 25 years that they’ve been in op­er­a­tion.In the wake of the re­cent bin deaths, how­ever, the com­pany has sus­pended man­u­fac­tur­ing un­til it can con­ceive of a safer de­sign. Mean­while, the com­pany is ad­vis­ing ex­ist­ing own­ers of its bins to re­move se­cu­rity mea­sures that could pinch a hu­man in the chute.“We’re kind of say­ing to our char­i­ties, ‘you’re go­ing to have to deal with the theft be­cause pub­lic safety is num­ber one,’” com­pany man­ager Bran­don Agro told The Cana­dian Press. “If some­one is go­ing to go into your bin and take your prod­uct, that’s go­ing to have to be how it is for now.”In July 2017, af­ter a man in his mid-20s died in a Cal­gary do­na­tion bin, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive with the Cere­bral Palsy As­so­ci­a­tion in Al­berta told Global News that they had no­ticed a rise in bin thefts.Ray Ta­heri, an en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s Okana­gan cam­pus, has been spear­head­ing a de­sign com­pe­ti­tion to make a safer cloth­ing-do­na­tion bin. One idea in­volved a mech­a­nism that would lock the bins if any­thing heav­ier than nine ki­los was put in­side.“It’s so sad that some­thing so beau­ti­ful turns into some­thing so tragic,” Ta­heri told Post­media on Jan. 1, just days be­fore the most re­cent death in Toronto.

Work­ers haul away a col­lec­tion bin af­ter the death of a 35-year-old Toronto woman early Tues­day morn­ing, af­ter she be­came trapped in its chute. She was the third per­son to die this way since Novem­ber.

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