Whether sold as toys or as useful household products, a new item poses a threat to children if consumed. The dangerous product is a marble-sized ball of polymer that can absorb and retain significant amounts of water. The superabsorbent polymer balls grow larger as they absorb water, something that is intended to entertain children as a toy. The balls are also used for gardening and flower arranging due to the large amount of water they can hold and release slowly. Unfortunately, when swallowed, the balls absorb water and swell in size inside the body. This can block airways or intestines, potentially resulting in death.
The maker of the product, a Cleveland company known as Dunecraft, recently recalled nearly 100,000 packages of the toy. The recall stemmed from a case in Texas where a ball had to be surgically removed from the small intestine of an 8-month-old girl. The incident and the potential for harm exhibited by the product has caused the Consumer Product Safety Commission to open a broader investigation. The class of products, extending beyond the toys manufactured by Dunecraft, will be reviewed by the CPSC for further recommendations.
The novelty of an item may make it attractive to children. Brightly colored balls that grow substantially larger in water may seem like a simple toy, capable of entertaining and demonstrating an interesting physical property. Unfortunately, being interesting is not the same as being safe. Children are not able to appreciate risk the way adults do. An object that is easily swallowed likely will be. In the case of these superabsorbent polymer balls, the results can be tragic.
Source: Consumer Reports Magazine, “Polymer balls raise alarm,” 2 April 2013