Sold as children’s toys and some resembling candy, water beads are colorful, water-absorbing balls. Yet the products can also be hazardous to young children and even potentially deadly 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 chair of the Consumer Products Safety Commission are backing a congressman’s plan to propose legislation banning water beads marketed for kids.
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. CPSC estimates there have been 4,500 visits to hospital emergency rooms due to water beads since 2017.
“Confusion and terror”
Among those ER 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 mix of confusion and terror engulfing me,” Haugen, a resident of San Antonio, Texas, and founder of That Water Bead Lady, an advocacy group, said Monday at a news conference organized to rally support for the proposed bill from Rep. Frank Pallone, D., New Jersey. “The source of her ailment? Water beads, the seemingly harmless birthday gift we bought for her older sister’s 6th birthday. Unbeknownst to us, the bead material silently wreaked havoc inside Kipley’s small body for over 70 days.”
Kipley survived, but the incident required surgery and extensive post-operative care.
The bill, set 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 multiple products.
“Walmart, Amazon and Target, all sell these things in various forms,” Pallone said Monday outside the 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 are going to be enough, they have to be banned,” he added.
A slew of children’s toy sets and related products with water beads were available for sale at all three of the retailer’s sites, as well 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 obstruction, and that is if they are lucky — once it reaches the small bowel, that’s a major operation,” Dr. Harpreet Pall, chair 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 more difficult 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 unimaginable,” Taylor Bethard said in describing walking into her 10-month-old daughter’s room one morning. “My baby wasn’t breathing, she had no pulse, my kids watched as I screamed in terror and began 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 hurt their children remain on the market.
“Imagine the anxiety of going into the store and seeing these types of products, water beads, that you know are deadly sitting on the shelf directly targeting families and children,” Folichia Mitchell, of Berwick, Maine, whose daughter Kennedy was seriously injured by water beads in November 2022.
Regulatory steps that can be taken by CPSC to prevent water beads from being on store shelves could take years and still face court challenges, CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric told the gathering. “Legislation is a much more direct way. It puts in protections much more quickly and definitely,” he said.
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