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Water Beads Are Seriously Injuring Kids, and Little Is Being Done to Stop It

September 14, 2023

News Update 9/14/2023 – The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that Buffalo Games has recalled Chuckle and Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity Kits citing serious ingestion, choking and obstruction hazards. Feldman Shepherd is representing the family of a toddler who died after ingesting a Chuckle and Roar water bead.

They look completely harmless. Tiny, colorful beads that expand when they absorb water. Kids enjoy the magic of watching these beads, which look a lot like candy, grow in size before their eyes. Manufacturers tout the water-soaked beads as a squishy toy that promotes sensory and fine motor skills, color recognition, counting skills, hand-eye coordination and patience (as it takes time for them to expand). They are sold in sets that can include thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of beads. Activity kits are sold with story themes such as dinosaurs or sea animals, and include accessories like scoopers, spoons, funnels, cups, and inflatable mats or plastic trays in which the beads can soak.

Look no further than Amazon to find manufacturers promoting water beads for use by children as young as toddlers. The packaging on one bead set shows a smiling baby sitting in a pool of water completely surrounded by colorful beads that have swelled to the size of marbles. The beads, which are made of super-absorbent polymer crystals, are touted by manufacturers as being non-toxic. The National Poison Control Center also says they are non-toxic. But that does not mean that they are safe.

While water beads can start as small as the size of a sprinkle, they can increase by more than 200 times that size after exposure to water — some swell to the size of marbles, golf balls, tennis balls or even racquetballs. If swallowed, water beads do not simply get digested and pass through a child’s body. To the contrary, they absorb fluids and expand, and are capable of causing life-threatening intestinal and bowel obstructions and other serious injuries. Water beads also expand and are dangerous when placed by curious children in their ears or nose. And it should go without saying that any small toy that young children can put in their mouths and swallow is a choking hazard.

Most recently, Target stopped selling Chuckle & Roar water beads after a 10-month-old girl nearly died after swallowing a single bead from an activity kit that belonged to her 8-year-old brother. According to news reports, the mother had set up her son at the kitchen table with the beads so that they would be out of reach of his younger siblings and had no idea that her baby girl had swallowed one. When the child began vomiting and became lethargic, the mom, thinking she might be suffering from a food allergy, brought her to the hospital. The child required emergency surgery to remove the bead and then four additional surgeries to treat infections caused by an intestinal blockage. Among her medical complications, the child was at risk for losing an arm due to a blood clot, her organs were “being suffocated by all the pressure in her body,” and she required a ventilator to breathe. Doctors told the mom on three separate occasions that her daughter might not survive. Today, fortunately, the child is back at home and is expected to recover. While the warning label for the water beads set was clearly inadequate — there was no mention of the serious medical consequences of ingesting the beads — it is questionable whether any warning in the instructions or on the box would be sufficient to convey the dangers of such an innocent-appearing product. Experience has taught that some products are of such marginal utility and are so unsafe that the only effective remedy is to prevent such products from being marketed at all.

Other incidents of children who were seriously injured or killed by water beads that have grabbed headlines or been reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) through its public database include:

  • Several news outlets have reported that a 6-month-old boy died after swallowing a water bead that expanded internally and caused a bowel blockage. The child underwent surgery for an intestinal obstruction and later developed an infection.
  • A surgeon reported to the CPSC the case of a child who ingested multiple water beads that belonged to an older sibling. The child required two major operations to remove the beads, which caused an intestinal obstruction. The surgeon reported that their medical practice had recently seen another child who swallowed water beads and also required multiple surgical interventions.
  • A parent reported to the CPSC that they purchased water beads for their 2-year-old son after finding them by searching “sensory toys for toddlers” on Amazon. The boy swallowed one bead without the parent’s knowledge and was taken to the hospital lethargic and vomiting. It took two days before doctors figured out via an ultrasound that the boy had swallowed the bead and that it was obstructing his intestine. The boy required three surgeries and was hospitalized for nearly a month.
  • A mom set up her own website and took to TikTok to raise awareness as to the dangers of water beads after her 10-month-old girl swallowed a single water bead without her knowledge from a set that belonged to her older sister. The baby became seriously ill and required emergency exploratory surgery for doctors to ascertain what was wrong. Although doctors eventually found and removed the bead from the child’s small intestine, the mom maintains that the water bead contained toxic chemicals that caused the child to sustain a brain injury. The set was labeled as non-toxic.
  • A mom reported to the CPSC that her 13-month-old daughter without her knowledge swallowed a water bead that belonged to an older sibling. The child was fussy, crying and in pain, would not eat, and was projectile vomiting. She required “major surgery” to remove the bead from her lower intestine.
  • A healthcare provider reported to the CPSC that a 1-year-old girl who swallowed water beads after finding them on the floor in a sibling’s bedroom required laparoscopic surgery to remove one bead and resection her intestine. A second bead had progressed further and was expelled after a contrast enema.
  • A parent reported to the CPSC that they purchased water beads on Amazon that were advertised as “preschool toys.” Their 1-year-old daughter, after swallowing just one bead, threw up nonstop for two days, was lethargic and could not eat. The bead did not show up on an X-ray or ultrasound, and the child required exploratory surgery where her “stomach was cut open” to find out what was blocking her digestive tract.
  • A parent reported to the CPSC that their 1-year-old daughter swallowed a Chuckle & Roar water bead which blocked her small intestine and caused a “massive infection” that was treated in a hospital.
  • The CPSC received a report of a 17-month-old boy who ingested multiple water beads. He began vomiting, and his parents noticed beads in his vomit and took him to the emergency room. An X-ray did not reveal any beads or signs of obstruction. But beads passed in his stool. After his symptoms persisted for 48 hours, the boy underwent an endoscopy, which revealed a bead just past his stomach. Doctors were unable to retrieve the bead, and the boy had to undergo surgery. Three beads that were blocking his small intestine were removed during the surgical procedure.
  • The cases of two young children who placed water beads in their ears have been widely reported in the medical literature and the media. In both cases, doctors could not see the clear beads and thought the children had an ear infection. One child developed “profound hearing loss” when the water bead went undetected for more than 10 weeks while she was initially treated with antibiotics and eardrops. By the time the bead was discovered via an MRI, it had swelled to 10 millimeters in size and had to be removed with middle ear surgery. The second child also required surgery to remove a water bead from his ear canal. Fortunately, his hearing loss was milder and reversible.

Consumer Reports outlines the dangers of water beads in its story, ‘Nobody Should Lose Their Child Over a Toy.’ Water beads can be deadly to children and are sending thousands to the ER each year. Experts say they shouldn’t be in homes with young kids.

What Are the Signs That My Child May Have Swallowed Water Beads?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says warning signs that a child may have swallowed water beads are:

  • Refusing to eat
  • Lethargy
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Complaints that something is stuck in the throat or chest
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal swelling and soreness

AAP recommends that parents who think that their child may have swallowed water beads or put water beads into their ears seek treatment immediately.

If Water Beads Are Dangerous, Why Are They Still on the Market?

The short answer is that the CPSC lacks sufficient authority to effectively regulate the toy industry, or any industry for that matter.

Pursuant to federal law, the CPSC cannot unilaterally recall unsafe products without a company’s cooperation. If a company refuses to cooperate, the CPSC must engage in protracted litigation or administrative proceedings to force a recall. Moreover, if the CPSC wants to notify the public about a hazardous product, it usually must get the company’s permission first. If the company objects, which is a common occurrence, the CPSC, again, may be forced to litigate the issue.

Unfortunately, the extent to which water beads are presently on the CPSC’s radar is unknown due to the legal restrictions on what information the CPSC can publicly share without a product manufacturer’s permission. However, history indicates that the CPSC clearly regards water beads as unsafe for children. A decade ago, the agency successfully worked with manufacturers to get multiple water bead toys recalled from the marketplace in the wake of injuries to children.

Parents should note that besides being used for toys, water beads have other uses by which they may get into the hands and mouths of children. Most notably, they are often used as vase fillers for flowers and floating candles and can be added to (or replace) the soil for indoor houseplants.

Should I Contact an Attorney If My Child Has Been Injured from Swallowing Water Beads?

Alan M. Feldman, a co-founding shareholder and product liability attorney at Feldman Shepherd recommends contacting a product liability attorney as soon as possible if your child has been injured from swallowing water beads.

Feldman observed that product liability law requires that all products be safe for their intended as well as expected use. Regarding water beads, he said “it is simply unacceptable that manufacturers continue to sell this dangerous product, while fully aware that curious young children may be tempted to swallow these tiny, colorful water beads that look like candy. Lacking any benefit and presenting such great risk, water beads simply should not be sold.”

Feldman’s team at Feldman Shepherd, which includes shareholder Daniel J. Mann and partner Edward S. Goldis, has secured substantial recoveries on behalf of infants and young children who have been seriously injured or killed by children’s products, including baby slings, unstable furniture and magnetic toys.


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