The now-recalled Walter Balz and Orbeez toys, which remain on the market, were recently tested by Consumer Reports. The small, round, brightly colored, marble-like toys are constructed of super-absorbent polymer that can quickly expand to much larger sizes when wet.
The test included the recalled Dunecraft Water Balz and small, highly absorbent polymer beads, including Orbeez, which are still being sold, said ABC Local. An Orbeez advertisement shows how the tiny beads expand in water.
Water Balz by Dunecraft, are also constructed of a super-absorbent polymer, are larger than the Orbeez, and were recalled in 2012 after an eight-month-old baby swallowed the toy, said ABC Local. “If nothing had been done, the intestines would have perforated, the child would have had significant infection and sepsis and could have possibly died from it,” Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, told ABC Local.
Dr. Olutoye, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine, previously told The New York Times that similar materials are used in pottery and gardening because of how they absorb water and expand, noting that there have been two known cases of birds dying after ingesting the super-absorbent product. “We speculate that this problem may increase in incidence as a cursory look at department stores suggests that the use of super absorbent polymer technology is becoming more prevalent in toys, gardening equipment, and other household products,” he added, according to the Times.
WebMD previously pointed out that Water Balz look like candy to children and can expand to 400 times their original size when wet. Eight-month-old Aunraya was brought to the hospital about 15 hours after she swallowed the Water Balz and was suffering from stomach problems. X-rays did not reveal the toy when she was first brought in for treatment. She was admitted and within a couple of days, her belly became swollen and she was exhibiting symptoms consistent with a blockage. In fact, the ball had blocked the lowest portion of her small intestine. Doctors removed the Water Balz, which had expanded to more than one inch—larger than the small intestine’s typical diameter—and which was fully intact, unaffected by digestion, said WebMD previously.
The full size of Orbeez, although considerably smaller than the recalled Water Balz, does pose a safety hazard to small children, said Consumer Reports, according to ABC Local. The toys contain warnings indicating that they pose a “choking hazard, not for children under three years” and “not suitable for children under the age of five.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said it is conducting a probe of polymer balls and beads.
Orbeez remains on the market and asserts that its tests reveal the toy is safe for children five years of age or older and that the toy should pass through the intestinal tract. The CPSC noted that Orbeez has not addressed the choking hazard or the toy’s potential to block the airway, risks for all children, said ABC Local.
Super absorbent polymer balls have been linked to injuries in other countries and have been banned in Italy and Malaysia, said ABC Local. “The balls are found not only in toys but are sold widely as decorations. We are urging strongly that parents and caregivers keep these products out of the reach of small children,” Dr. Eric Mallow told ABC Local.
For its part, Dunecraft Inc., of Cleveland, Ohio, recently recalled nearly 95,000 Water Balz, Growing Skulls, H2O Orbs “Despicable Me,” and Fabulous Flowers toys in the United States. An additional 600 toys were recalled in Canada.