WA: Water absorbing balls and expanding toys raise safety concerns


Consumer Protection is concerned that water absorbing polymer balls, toys and novelty items are posing a serious risk for young children.

These polymer balls that are sold in small crystal form (about the size of a dress pin head) were originally designed for the florist industry to hold flowers in place and create a colourful addition to the display.  Some of these products are now being purchased and sold as a tactile toy for children.

If swallowed, the tiny balls and other items can expand up to four hundred times their original size and have been found for sale in the WA marketplace.

There have been two recent cases in Geraldton and Perth where children attended hospital after swallowing the balls which could potentially obstruct the airways, posing a choking and suffocation hazard, or block the intestines or bowel as they expand.

In the Geraldton case, a two year old boy had ingested up to 12 water absorbing balls and was treated at the local hospital in December 2014 and recovered. In September 2014 a child presented at Princess Margaret Hospital emergency department after swallowing some water absorbing balls, but suffered no adverse symptoms.

In some overseas cases, children have required surgery to have the expanded beads, which don’t show up on x-rays, removed. A death of a child in Pakistan has been reported.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll is concerned that water expandable beads, toys and other products are available in some Perth stores as well as online.

“There are serious risks with these products and sellers should ensure that they are not sold as toys especially for young children due to the danger they create if swallowed,” Ms Driscoll said.

“Parents should also be aware of the risk. The balls can sometimes be colourful and may look like lollies and be very attractive to a young child. If there are any of these water expandable products in the home and are small enough to be swallowed in their original size, they should be kept well away from young children and preferably disposed of immediately.

“We want both retailers and consumers to be aware of the hazards of these products while regulators consider whether further action is necessary.”

Further information on product safety is available at www.productsafety.gov.au. Reports of unsafe products being sold should be made to Consumer Protection by email: consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au or by calling 1300 30 40 54.

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