Congressman calls for national ban on water bead toy in wake of child injuries, death

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Monday, November 13, 2023
Congressman calls for national ban on children's toy
There is a new national push to ban water beads -- colorful, water-absorbing balls often marketed to children.

NEW JERSEY -- There is a new national push to ban water beads -- colorful, water-absorbing balls often marketed to children.

In a news conference Monday, Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey announced that he will be introducing a bill at the House of Representatives this week aimed at instating a national ban on beads marketed to kids.

Water beads are tiny balls made out of extremely absorbent polymer material. When exposed to liquid, however, 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 teach counting and motor skills, and are sold by popular retailers such as Target, Walmart and Amazon.

"Water beads come in all sorts of bright rainbow colors, tend to look like candy, and are often labeled as non-toxic," Congressman Pallone said. "They look and sound fun, but the reality is these colorful products can become deadly or cause serious injuries when swallowed by children. That's why I'm introducing legislation to ban water beads marketed for kids nationwide. I'm grateful to everyone who joined me today to raise awareness about the danger these products pose-especially as holiday shopping begins-and I look forward to continuing to work together to advance this legislation to protect our nation's little ones."

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.

Pallone's Ban Water Beads Act would direct the CPSC to enforce a ban on all water beads marketed for use by kids.

"I have heard heartbreaking stories from parents whose children ingested water beads and suffered horrendous consequences, including grave internal injuries, lifelong health impacts, and even death," said CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric. "All small children who have access to water beads are at risk. I thank Congressman Pallone for his leadership on this issue and look forward to working with him and with parent advocates to protect children."

They say they're aware of at least one death. Esther Bethard of Wisconsin was just 10 months old when she died on July 7.

"Our sweet Esther Jo is gone all because of a toy; a toy she was never allowed to play with," said Taylor Bethard, Esther's mother. "Water beads are not worth the risk. If you are a parent, caregiver, teacher or therapist, I urge you to remove these from your spaces immediately. Our family is thankful that the Ban Water Beads Act will help ensure that no other family endures the same tragedy we have."

Because they can grow inside the body once ingested, these toys pose 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.

And, because they're mostly made up of water, typical X-rays often do not pick them up.

"It's hard to tell in an emergency room that a water bead is causing the problem," Dr. Harpreet Pall, a pediatric gastroenterologist and Chair of Pediatrics at Hackensack Meridian Health K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital, noted at the news conference.

Sister station WPVI warned consumers about water beads in December after speaking to the mom of 1-year-old Kennedy Mitchell.

Kennedy ended up in the hospital after swallowing a bead from the same Chuckle & Roar kit sold at Target that allegedly killed Bethard. The bead blocked Kennedy's intestine.

"In November 2022, water beads caused serious injury to my daughter, Kennedy Mitchell," said Folichia Mitchell. "These beads, sold in packs of thousands, bring a hidden risk into homes, leaving only luck to avert disaster. We must join forces to shield our children from such dangers, as they deserve more than just luck for protection. I stand in support of the Ban Water Beads Act, advocating for the right of every child to have safe toys in their home."

The Chuckle and Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity kit was recalled after the Bethard's reported Esther's death to the CPSC.

Pallone expects cross-aisle support for this bill in both the House and the Senate.

"We will try to get Republicans to co-sponsor the bill in the House and get Democrats and Republicans to introduce the bill in the Senate," he said. "This is going to be bipartisan."

The CPSC has 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.

"Companies must step up and prioritize safety in their product design and the quality of their manufacture," said Ashley Haugen, founder and president of That Water Bead Lady, a product injury non-profit and advocacy group. "We call on retailers to consider the best interests of their youngest consumers and remove water beads from shelves and online platforms."

Haugen said that, in 2017, her infant daughter was poisoned by water beads that stayed in her system for more than 70 days, and needed major emergency surgery to save her life. "Accidents happen and in those moments the design and quality of a product can make a crucial difference between a minor mishap and a major tragedy," she said.

Hoehn-Saric said that, beyond the Commission's recalls, the CPSC is investigating taking further action regarding potentially harmful chemicals in water beads. "But this bill is so important because it is the fastest way to move forward and address the problem across the country for all parents," he said.

CNNWire contributed to this report.