Sold as children’s toys and some resembling candy, water beads are colorful balls that absorb water. Yet the products can also be dangerous for young children and even potentially fatal if swallowed, because they can grow several times in size once in a child’s body, advocates and a federal agency warn.
That’s why parents and the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission are supporting a congressman’s plan to propose legislation banning water beads marketed to children.
Often purchased for older siblings, expanded water beads have been found in the stomachs, intestines, ears, noses and even lungs of infants and toddlers, Consumer Reports said in a recent report. The CPSC estimates there have been 4,500 hospital emergency room visits due to water dripping since 2017.
“Confusion and Terror”
Among those emergency room visits was one in 2017 involving Ashley Haugen’s granddaughter, Kipley.
“I remember sitting in the waiting room, drenched in Kipley’s vomit, a mixture of confusion and terror coming over me,” Haugen, a San Antonio, Texas, resident and founder, said Monday of That Water Bead Lady, an advocacy group. press conference held to rally support for the bill proposed by Rep. Frank Pallone, D., New Jersey. “The source of his illness? Water beads, the seemingly harmless birthday present we bought for his older sister’s 6th birthday. Unbeknownst to us, the material of the beads has been silently wreaking havoc on the little body of Kipley for over 70 days.”
Kipley survived, but the incident required extensive surgery and post-operative care.
The bill, expected to be introduced this week by Pallone, is the quickest way to protect children nationwide, according to Consumer Reports and the CPSC, which has issued public warnings about water beads and recalled several products.
“Walmart, Amazon and Target all sell these products in various forms,” Pallone said Monday outside Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey. “We recently did a search on Amazon and got 3,000 results, so it’s very widespread.”
“No warning will be enough, they must be banned,” he added.
A multitude of children’s toy sets and related products containing water beads were available for sale on the retailer’s three sites, as well as those of other toy sellers, CBS MoneyWatch found.
“Children, as you all know, love to put things in their mouth, and once it reaches the stomach it can cause an obstruction, and if they are lucky, once it reaches the small intestine, it’s a major operation,” Dr. Harpreet Pall, chairman of pediatrics at Hackensack Meridian Health K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, said at the news conference.
Water beads are also problematic in that, because they are not metallic, they are harder to detect in X-rays, Pall noted.
Another parent who spoke at the event described the death of their baby on July 7.
“I walked into the unimaginable,” Taylor Bethard said as she described walking into her 10-month-old daughter’s room one morning. “My baby was not breathing, she had no pulse, my children watched me scream in terror and start CPR,” Bethard said. “Our sweet Esther Jo left because of a toy.”
A third mother described the stress of knowing that toys that hurt their children remain on the market.
“Imagine the anxiety of walking into the store and seeing these types of products, water beads, that you know are deadly on the shelves, directly targeting families and children,” said Folichia Mitchell , of Berwick, Maine, whose daughter Kennedy wasin November 2022.
Regulatory actions that can be taken by the CPSC to prevent water beads from appearing on store shelves could take years and still face legal challenges, said CPSC Chairman Alex Hoehn-Saric , during a meeting. “Legislation is a much more direct way. It puts protections in place much more quickly and definitively,” he said.