Some like it hot

The College has issued a safety warning regarding Wal-Mart’s No Boundaries 5-Light Multicolored Floor Lamp and other lamps with a similar plastic shade design following two “near misses” with the lamp at SUNY-Fredonia.

Students may not keep the lamp in residence with standard incandescent bulbs, but may either remove them or replace the bulbs with “cool to the touch” compact florescent bulbs that burn at a lesser temperature.

According to a campus-wide e-mail sent by Brian Webb, manager of Risk, Occupational Safety and Environmental Services, regular incandescent bulbs burn at a temperature that melts the shade and releases toxic fumes. The e-mail went on to say that if the melted plastic came into contact with other combustible materials, it could start a fire.

A statement posted by Marne Smith, director of Environmental Health and Safety at SUNY-Fredonia, on her Web site states that one student’s bedspread was burned after the shade caught fire. In a separate incident, the shade melted through and began to turn a student’s poster brown.

Other colleges received SUNY-Fredonia’s bulletin, including the College Health and Environmental Safety Society (CHESS), of which the College is a member. Webb said he became aware of the hazard through CHESS.

Webb’s e-mail did not name the lamp, but attached a picture. The pictured lamp is the same as the No Boundaries 5-Light Multicolored, which is sold at Wal-Mart and other chain stores. Webb said he didn’t name the lamp or manufacturer because he was worried about the design, not the lamp in particular.

“We don’t want to point at Wal-Mart or any other manufacturer,” Webb said.

The Wal-Mart Web site does not mention any safety issues with the shade. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said she would look into the issue, but had not called back by press time.

Webb said that because there was no recall on the lamp and the issue did not appear to be electrical, his office decided not to ban the lamp outright, as other schools have. Instead, students will be able to use compact florescent bulbs which use less energy and burn at a lower temperature. Webb said the cooler bulbs were not as likely to burn the shade as standard incandescent bulbs were.

Students who choose not to replace the bulbs can keep the lamp in residence, but cannot leave it plugged in. Students who have not replaced the bulbs and keep the lamp plugged in will be documented by the College’s judicial system for keeping a fire hazard, Webb’s e-mail said.

If students aren’t sure whether their lamp should be used, Webb said to unplug the lamp and ask a Residence Life professional staff member.

For Melissa Zachok, sophomore accounting major, the message came too late. She was studying for fall semester exams when she looked up and noticed smoke filling her room. According to Zachok, her Main Stays brand lamp, which had a shade similar to the No Boundaries lamp, had burned through the plastic. She was able to unplug the lamp in time, but the event was her own close call.

“I’m shocked the smoke alarm didn’t go off,” Zachok said.

Main Stays is another Wal-Mart private label brand.

According to SUNY-Fredonia’s Web site, the lamp’s safety issues are being looked into by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control as well as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A search of the commission’s Web site revealed no mention of the lamp.