In the past year-plus, an ever-increasing number of cities, corporations, and entire countries have announced bans on plastic straws and other single-use plastic products. Starbucks was one of the first major chains to promise to eliminate plastic straws from all 28,000 of its locations, setting an ambitious goal to be fully straw-free by 2020. McDonald’s soon made a similar pledge—at least for its locations in the United Kingdom and Ireland—and some airlines, hotel chains, cruise lines, and even Disney’s theme parks have also switched to more sustainable options.
But after a 60-year-old woman was killed in a terrifying freak accident involving a metal straw, an English county coroner has issued a warning about the potential danger of using stainless steel straws incorrectly. According to The Telegraph, Elena Struthers-Gardner was carrying a “Mason jar-style drinking glass” when she collapsed in her kitchen in Dorset, England. She fell forward onto the metal straw that was protruding from the screw-top lid, and the 10-inch long straw went straight through her left eye, penetrated her brain, and ultimately damaged her brainstem.
“I went to the kitchen door and could see Lena lying on her front at the doorway between the den and the kitchen,” her wife, Mandy Struthers-Gardner, wrote in a statement that was read at the coroner’s inquest. “She was making unusual gurgling sounds. Her glass cup was lying on the floor still intact and the straw was still in the jar. I noticed the straw was sticking into her head. I called 999 and requested an ambulance.”
Emergency crews rushed Elena Struthers-Gardner to Southampton General Hospital, but her injuries proved to be fatal; she was taken off life support and died the following day. Although Brendan Allen, an assistant coroner for the County of Dorset, could not determine what caused her to fall or collapse, her official cause of death was listed as a traumatic brain injury.
Mandy Struthers-Gardner said that Elena, a former jockey, had mobility issues relating to a horse-riding accident she suffered in her early 20s, and her lingering spinal injuries occasionally caused her to collapse. “I just feel that in the hands of mobility challenged people like Elena, or children, or even able-bodied people losing their footing, these things are so long and very strong,” she wrote. “Even if they don’t end a life they can be very dangerous.”
Allen seemed to agree, suggesting that metal straws should never be used in a drinking vessel with a fixed or screw-on lid. “Clearly great care should be taken when using these metal straws,” he said. “There is no give in them at all. If someone does fall on one and it’s pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur […] It seems the main problem here is if the lid hadn’t been in place the straw would have moved away.”
After reading about this, we’ll probably just be using a paper or soft silicone straw instead.