Consumer Reports: Super Absorbent Toy Ball Caution

Consumer Reports says there’s a potential safety hazard with popular small toy balls and beads that expand dramatically in water.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Consumer Reports says there's a potential safety hazard with popular small toy balls and beads that expand dramatically in water. Pediatric surgeon Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, and Dr. Eric Mallow and Andrea Rock of Consumer Reports discussed the products. Orbeez, which makes tiny polymer beads, said in a statement that its beads are not dangerous if swallowed. (Published Monday, Apr 22, 2013)

    They’re colorful and alluring, but Consumer Reports says there’s a potential safety hazard with popular small toy balls and beads that expand dramatically in water. There are many of those super-absorbent polymer balls on the market, although one was recalled late last year—Dunecraft Water Balz.

    It was recalled after an 8-month-old swallowed one. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors couldn’t see anything on the X-ray. But in surgery they removed a ball almost 1 1/2 inches in diameter from her small intestine. Her pediatric surgeon said, “If nothing had been done, the intestines would have perforated, the child would have had significant infection and sepsis, and could have possibly died from it.”

    Consumer Reports examined the recalled Dunecraft Water Balz fresh out of its package. And then the identical ball that soaked in water for two days. Consumer Reports also looked at tiny polymer beads that are still on the market, including Orbeez. Though their full size is much smaller than the banned Water Balz, Consumer Reports says that they also pose a safety hazard for small children. The products look a lot like candy or gum, but they can expand enough within a few hours to block the intestine or airway of a small child.

    The Orbeez beads do carry warnings. On the front the package says, “Choking hazard … not for children under three years.” On the back it says, “Not suitable for children under the age of five.” Meanwhile Orbeez, whose beads are smaller than others on the market, says its tests show the toy is “safe for the children for whom it is intended.” Orbeez says the balls should pass through their digestive tract. However, Consumer Reports says all products of this type can pose a choking hazard or risk of a blocked airway for any small child. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it’s currently investigating polymer balls and beads.

    Although additional injuries have not yet been documented in the U.S., several have been reported in other countries, including one fatality. All types of super-absorbent polymer balls have been banned in Italy and Malaysia. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it regards “the incident involving the 8-month-old girl to be very serious, and as a result CPSC staff are taking a broader look at this product class.”

    The balls are found not only in toys but are also sold widely as decorations. Consumer Reports strongly urges that parents and caregivers keep those products out of the reach of small children.

    Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports’ website.

    Full Response From Sharon Cohen of The Maya Group:

    "I am responding to the May article you published on the recall of DuneCraft’s Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) toys. The article makes strong but erroneous connections between the safety of the toys recalled by DuneCraft and our Orbeez products. While DuneCraft’s Water Balz were rightfully recalled because they are dangerous if swallowed, Orbeez pose no danger of obstruction if swallowed. Size really does matter. While DuneCraft products grow up to 57 mm in diameter in water, Orbeez will reach a maximum of 14mm in water and a maximum diameter of 7mm in the intestines. A scientist in your video claims that Orbeez and other SAPs, though smaller than DuneCraft Water Balz, will grow large enough to cause blockage. That is simply false. Our data and empirical evidence prove conclusively that Orbeez are not dangerous if swallowed. They pass through the digestive tract and are expelled naturally without causing harm. They are non-toxic, do not bind together and do not break down in the digestive process.

    Your article also confuses “Age Grade” with “Choking Hazard.” Every single toy that contains small parts (in other words every Lego, Polly Pocket, HotWheels car, Barbie doll or bead sold in the U.S.) carries a standard small parts warning indicating that it is a choking hazard. (Warning: CHOKING HAZARD –Small Parts. Not for Children under 3 years.) The government has not banned small parts. It simply requires such labeling.

    An Age Grade is different. A manufacturer decides the appropriate age grade of a toy based on its play pattern. That age grade could be 5 plus or 8 plus, even if it carries a Choking Hazard, stating that it is unsafe for Children under the Age of 3. That is not a contradiction. It is standard.

    We are a responsible and experienced toy company. We take safety very seriously. Our testing far exceeds any federal requirements. It is wrong for Consumer Reports to write an alarmist piece that makes false claims and ignores important data. We have sold more than 5 billion SAP beads. Not a single child or pet has suffered bowel obstruction or choking from swallowing our toys."