6 On Your Side: Consumer Confidence, Dangers of Water Bead Toys

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(ABC 6 News) – Parents need to know about an important safety warning about a popular children’s toy called ‘water beads.’

A recent recall has shined a light on the dangers of this product.

Water beads start out tiny, but grow dramatically in water – and that can be dangerous if babies or toddlers accidentally eat them, put them in their ears or nose, or even inhale them.

A Consumer Reports investigation finds the beads have reportedly been the cause of thousands of emergency room visits according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and even linked to several deaths.

Marketed as safe and non-toxic sensory toys, but as Ashley Haugen found out, fun can quickly turn terrifying after her then thirteen-month-old got ahold of her older sister’s water beads.

“One morning, Kipley woke up and she was vomiting,” says Haugen. Thinking Kipley had a stomach flu and needed fluids, Ashley took her to the Emergency room. Once there, the doctor told her they would need to perform surgery immediately.

“The surgeon came out and he showed us a picture of what he had found in Kipley’s small intestine. And we recognized it immediately. We were shocked. It was water bead material,” says Haugen.

Water bead accidents have been linked to an estimated 4,500 emergency room visits over a four-year period according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They can contribute to hearing loss, infections, bowel obstructions, blocked airways and even death.

Lauren Kirchner, an investigative reporter with Consumer Reports, explains, “Out of the package, when water beads are dry, they’re so, so small and so they’re very easy to spill and get lost in someone’s house. I’ve talked to so many parents who bought them for their older children, but then somehow their younger children got them and either ate them or even breathed them in. And then once they’re inside their bodies, those water beads can continue to expand in their intestines or even in their lungs.”

Another problem – symptoms from ingesting a water bead can seem like an ordinary stomach bug.

“Doctors can have a hard time diagnosing that a water bead is to blame because often they don’t even show up on an x-ray,” says Kirchner.

The Toy Association, an industry group, told CR, that consumers should take care to follow age recommendations on water bead packaging.

Kipley is now 7, and Haugen is warning other parents about the dangers no matter the age of the child. “They should not sell water beads as toys. They should not market water beads as toys. They are not safe,” says Haugen.

If you own the Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity Kit, you can contact the company for a full refund and instructions on how to return it.

If you have any brand of water beads in your home, Consumer Reports recommends getting rid of them immediately.