Water beads linked to thousands of ER visits

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reevaluating toy standards

SAN ANTONIO – Last week’s recall of a water bead kit sold at Target may only make a small dent in a larger issue: the hidden danger of water bead toys. Consumer groups are sounding the alarm, and one San Antonio mom is on a mission.

“They are not safe,” Ashley Haugen said.

Her daughter, Kipley, was rushed to the emergency room six years ago.

“Kipley woke up, and she was projectile vomiting,” Haugen said.

In the ER, exploratory surgery uncovered water bead material in her 13-month-old daughter’s small intestine. Despite supervision, she’d somehow gotten hold of her older sister’s water beads.

“We had no idea this is what could be making Kipley so sick,” Haugen said.

Water beads are marketed as safe, non-toxic sensory toys for children over three. You soak the tiny beads — the size of a pinhead — in water, and they grow. And grow.

Swollen beads range in size from a small marble to a golf ball.

But Kipley’s accident is not an isolated incident.

Water bead accidents have been linked to at least 7800 emergency room visits since 2016.

Children, typically babies and toddlers, swallow them, put them in their noses and ears, and even inhale them.

Doctors say the beads contribute to hearing loss, infections, bowel obstructions, blocked airways and even death.

A baby in Wisconsin died this year after ingesting a water bead.

“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,” Lauren Kirchner with Consumer Reports said. “And then once they’re inside their bodies, those water beads can continue to expand in their intestines or even in their lungs.”

Parents say it’s challenging to keep track of the beads. When dry, they bounce, scatter and get lost under furniture and in rugs.

Another problem is the symptoms from ingesting a water bead, which may seem like an ordinary stomach bug at the time.

“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,” Kirchner said.

The recall was only for one product, the Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity Kit sold at Target. Still, similar toys are widely available for sale online and in stores.

Haugen is on a mission to stop the marketing of water beads as toys.

She’s testified before the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

“I want them to ban water beads as toys,” she said.

The CPSC says it is investigating and is now reevaluating current toy standards.

“We found with water beads that there is a part of the standard that they may ‘pass,’ but doesn’t address the hazard we are seeing,” Pamela Rucker Springs, CPSC communications director said.

The Toy Association, an industry group, says consumers should follow age recommendations on water bead packaging.

For now, Haugen works tirelessly to educate others through her nonprofit and website, warning parents of small children to keep water beads out of the home.

About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Alex Trevino is a video editor at KSAT who works on the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts.