Senators Introduce New Law to Outlaw Water Beads After Child Deaths

Nearly 8,000 child emergency room visits have been linked to water beads since 2016, according to the CPSC, leading to calls for new legislation to ban the expanding balls.

Following thousands of reported injuries and deaths over the past decade, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced new legislation that would ban water bead toys, to protect young children from choking and asphyxiation.

Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced “Esther’s Law” on May 9, which is named after Esther Jo Bethard, a 10-month-old from Wisconsin who died of injuries sustained after swallowing a stray water bead.

The bill would ban the sale of water beads as a toy or educational item in the United States, and comes after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently issued a water beads safety warning, which highlighted serious risks linked to the products and urged consumers to stop using the toys.

Child Water Bead Injury Risks

Water beads are small balls made of super-absorbent polymer that can grow up to 100 times their size when exposed to liquids. This increases the product’s size from roughly a small jelly bean to the size of a golf ball.

Since 2016, federal safety officials indicate that nearly 8,000 children have been treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries linked to water bead toys, typically after the small balls were accidentally swallowed and rapidly expanded inside the body.

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The CPSC has issued a number of water bead recalls due to serious and sometimes fatal injuries after children swallowed the beads. In some cases, the injuries require surgery to remove parts of the intestine and the toy that expanded significantly in size after being swallowed.

Because some water beads contain toxic chemicals, like the cancer-causing chemical acrylamide, when a child swallows a water bead, mistaking it for a sprinkle or candy, not only does it grow in size, leading to blocked intestines, bowel obstructions, or lung damage, but it can also cause toxic poisoning or other medical emergencies.

“We need to do more to prevent kids from ingesting these dangerous products and give parents the confidence they deserve that the toys they buy are safe,” Senator Baldwin said in a press release.

Proposed Water Bead Ban

The new legislation would ban the sale of the products in the U.S. and limit children’s access to the water beads.

The law also calls on the CPSC to:

  • Ban water bead products marketed to children as toys, educational materials, sensory tools, or art materials.
  • Enact regulations on the colors of water beads that pose an ingestion hazard that would help reduce their attractiveness to children.
  • Require warning labels on water bead packages used for other purposes, such as agricultural products or soil enhancers.

“Too many families have faced terrifying hours in the emergency room, worrying about whether their child will survive after swallowing a water bead, a product that is often marketed as a toy,” Senator Casey in the press release. “With thousands of children hospitalized in just the last few years, it is clear that this product has no place in the hands of children.”

While the CPSC doesn’t take a stance on U.S. legislation, the agency previously warned parents to remove water beads from their homes, especially if they have children under the age of 3. They also call on daycares, schools, and camps to avoid using the beads entirely.


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