Government officials, public health professionals and concerned parents are coming to together to push through a bill that would ban a popular children’s sensory toy — water beads — that have been linked with child injury and death.
In a news conference Monday, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey announced that he will be introducing a bill — the Ban Water Beads Act — at the House of Representatives aimed at instating a national ban on the toy marketed to kids.
“They are specifically marketed to kids. In a single small package you can have 25, 50, or even 75,000 of these beads, and it just takes one to cause harm to a child,” said Pallone. “They are not labeled as dangerous to small children, there’s no warning, and they’re not hard to get.”
The bill — set to be introduced this week — is the quickest way to protect children against the potential dangers of water beads, according to Consumer Reports and the CPSC, which has issued public warnings about water beads and recalled multiple products including a water bear kit sold at Target.
The CPSC announced several recalls of water bead kits from various manufacturers due to ingestion hazards. Most recently, the Commission and company Buffalo Games recalled about 52,000 Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity Kits in September. Buffalo Games had received reports of one 10-month-old baby who died and another 9-month-old baby who needed surgery after swallowing the beads.
However, one singular kit being recalled is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Walmart, Amazon and Target, all sell these things in various forms,” Pallone said. “We did a recent search on Amazon and we got 3,000 results, so it’s very widespread. No warnings are going to be enough, they have to be banned.”
Water beads are tiny balls made out of extremely absorbent polymer material. When the small balls are exposed to liquid, they can expand to 100 times their initial size and weight, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
These beads are often sold as children’s toys to help with motor skills and are sometimes used as filler in sensory bins.
“They’re being marketed as crafts, as a tactile toy for children with autism, even ammunition for toy guns,” CPSC Chairman Alex Hoehn-Saric said at the news conference. “It is far too easy for beads to be lost, dropped, and a short time later a baby or small child ends up finding them, picking them up and ingesting them.”
If ingested, water beads can grow inside the body, posting immense health risks to young children, say experts. In a safety alert in September, the CPSC reported that these beads “can cause severe discomfort, vomiting, dehydration, intestinal blockages and life-threatening injuries” and may require surgery to remove.
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. CPSC estimates there have been 4,500 visits to hospital emergency rooms due to water beads since 2017.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there were 7,800 emergency room visits between 2016 and 2022 as a result of children ingesting water beads.