Three of the nation’s leading retailers have voluntarily agreed to stop selling water beads marketed toward children, as concerns grow about the safety of the toy.
Amazon, Walmart and Target have all removed the product in instances where it is marketed to children from their physical and virtual shelves. (Products marketed towards adults will still be available for purchase.)
Water beads are super-absorbent spheres that grow to several times their original size when exposed to water. They can be used to water plants, but they’re also marketed as toys and, in some cases, learning aids.
Some young children are swallowing the beads, however, which causes them to expand inside their bodies, sometimes to as much as 100 times their original size. This can pose severe health risks. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has warned parents to keep them away from small children, noting they can “cause severe discomfort, vomiting, dehydration, intestinal blockages and life-threatening injuries, and surgery may be required to remove the water beads”. Emergency departments see thousands of water-bead-related visits each year.
Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), introduced legislation to ban the products from being marketed to children.
Amazon has updated its policy, saying it will remove listings that refer to children, include images of children with the product or describe the products as toys, arts and craft items or “sensory play” objects.
Walmart and Target have made similar commitments. Walmart said it will prohibit the sale of water beads that are marketed to children under 9, while Target said it will halt the sale of the product marketed to children under the age of 12.
Some listings and products have already been removed; others will be taken off shelves next week.
The ban comes as one of the season’s hottest toys — “gel blaster” guns, which shoot water beads — are a popular request among kids.