Marketed as children’s toys and similar to candy, water beads are colorful, water-absorbing balls. Yet the products can also be dangerous to young children and even potentially fatal if swallowed, as they can grow many times their size once inside a child’s body, advocates and a federal agency warn.
That’s why parents and the chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission are backing a congressman’s plan to propose legislation to ban water beads marketed to children.
Often bought 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 visits to hospital emergency rooms due to water beads since 2017.
“Confusion and Terror”
Among those emergency room visits was one in 2017 involving Ashley Haugen’s infant daughter, Kipley.
“I remember sitting in the waiting room, drenched in Kipley’s vomit, a mixture of confusion and horror engulfing me,” Haugen, a San Antonio, Texas resident and founder of That Water Bead Lady, an advocacy group, said Monday at press conference organized to rally support for the proposed bill from Rep. Frank Pallone, D., New Jersey. “The source of her suffering? Water beads, the seemingly harmless birthday present we bought for her older sister’s 6th birthday. Unbeknownst to us, the bead material was silently wreaking havoc inside Kipley’s tiny body for over 70 days.”
Kipley survived, but the incident required surgery and extensive post-operative care.
The bill, to be introduced this week by Pallone, is the fastest way to protect children nationwide, according to Consumer Reports and the CPSC, which have released public warnings about water pearls and recalled more products.
“Walmart, Amazon and Target, all sell these things in different forms,” Pallone said Monday outside Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, New Jersey. “We did a recent search on Amazon and we got 3,000 results, so it’s very widespread.”
“No warnings will be enough, they must be banned,” he added.
A number of children’s toy sets and related products with water beads were available for sale on all three of the retailer’s websites, as well as other toy sellers, CBS MoneyWatch found.
“Kids, as you all know, love to put things in their mouths and when it gets to the stomach it can cause an obstruction and that’s if they’re lucky – once it gets to the small intestine it’s major surgery,” says Dr . Harpreet Pall, chair of pediatrics at Hackensack Meridian Health K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, said at the news conference.
Water pearls 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 her baby’s death on July 7.
“I walked into the unthinkable,” Taylor Bethard said as she described walking into her 10-month-old daughter’s room one morning. “My baby wasn’t breathing, she had no pulse, my kids were watching as I screamed in terror and started CPR,” Bethard said. “Our sweet Esther Jo is gone all because of a toy.”
A third mother described the stress of knowing that toys that harm 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 shelf directly aimed at families and children,” Folichia Mitchell of Berwick, Maine, whose daughter Kennedy wasin November 2022.
Regulatory steps that could be taken by the CPSC to prevent water beads from being on store shelves could take years and still face court challenges, CPSC Chairman Alex Hoehn-Saric told the gathering. “Legislation is a much more direct way. It introduces protection much more quickly and more definitely,” he said.