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Don’t Give Water Beads to Children, CPSC Warns

Walmart, Amazon, Target to restrict sales after health concerns

spinner image Parents and caregivers are being warned not to give water beads to children.
Steven White/Getty Images

Officials are warning parents and caregivers not to give water beads to children because, if ingested, they can cause injuries, lifelong health consequences and even death.

The beads look similar to candy and are often sold as toys, in crafts and as sensory tools for children with developmental disabilities. They are made of highly absorbent polymer and can grow 100 times their original size when exposed to water, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said in a consumer alert.

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The products may also be referred to as sensory beads, jelly beads, water orbs, hydro orbs, polymer beads and gel beads.

Water beads have been linked to thousands of emergency room visits per year. From 2016 to 2022, approximately 7,800 injuries were treated at hospitals, according to CPSC estimates.

The products may be sold as small as pinheads and are hard to find if dropped or spilled on the floor. If ingested, they can grow inside the body, causing severe discomfort, vomiting, dehydration and intestinal blockages. If inserted into ears, they may damage ear structures and cause hearing loss. In both instances, surgery may be required to remove the beads.

spinner image ex ray showing a childs torso where you can see water bead toys that were ingested throughout the intestines
X-ray showing water beads in a child’s intestines.
Courtesy U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Parents and caregivers are advised to remove the products from any environment with small children, age 3 and younger.

A water bead activity kit was recalled in September after reports indicated at least two children under 12 months old swallowed the beads. One of the children required surgery to remove an intestinal obstruction. The product, Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads Activity Kit, was sold exclusively at Target.

Major retailers respond

Amid the warnings surrounding water beads, major national retailers have said they will stop marketing the products to children.

The retailers include:

  • Target, which will no longer sell water beads marketed to children age 12 and under.

“At Target, our top priority is the safety of our guests. Given growing safety concerns, we will no longer sell water beads marketed to children,” said Emily Bisek of Target communications to AARP in an email.

  • Amazon indicated that it will ban water bead listings if they refer to children, include images of children with the product, describe its use as a toy or use terms such as “sensory play,” “arts” or “crafts,” it said in a compliance statement.
  • Walmart also announced it will ban the sale of water beads that are marketed toward young children. 

“We decided to voluntarily stop selling expanding water bead toy and craft items marketed to young children and have already taken steps to remove them from our stores and online,” a spokesperson told AARP.

Safety tips for child caregivers

  • The only way to guarantee that hazards associated with water beards are eliminated is to remove them from spaces where small children may live or visit such as childcare centers, camps and schools.
  • Do not allow children to play with water beads unsupervised.
  • Remember: Water beads can easily scatter, roll and become lost in the home and can be ingested in the dehydrated state.
  • Store water beads in a secure container and location where young children cannot easily access them.
  • If you suspect a child has swallowed a water bead or inserted it into their ear or nose, seek medical treatment right away.

Source: CPSC

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