Arkansas child poisoned by coating on recalled toy beads made in China

Friday, November 9, 2007
A Chinese-made toy called Aqua Dots was recalled Wednesday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. (Aqua Dots, Consumer Product Safety Commission)

The chemical, when ingested, metabolizes into gamma hydroxy butyrate, the so-called date rape drug.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The parents of a Jacksonville toddler were horrified when their child swallowed part of a colorful toy bead set made in China and then passed out.

He apparently was overcome when the coating on the beads metabolized into a chemical compound known as the "date rape drug."

"I thought he was going to die. I didn't want to tell my kids that, of course, but I thought he was going to die," said Shelby Esses, whose son Jack swallowed a handful of Spin Master Aqua Dots the day before Halloween. "It was horrible."

In the latest recall involving Chinese toy makers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday ordered Aqua Dots off store shelves.

At least two children in the U.S. and four in Australia have been hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

Spin Master Aqua Dots can be arranged into designs and then fused together when sprayed with water.

Jack Esses, 20 months old, started stumbling and throwing up the Aqua Dots after playing with his sister's set on Oct. 30, his mother said in an interview Thursday. For a time, he slipped out of consciousness -- waking up only to vomit.

"I thought that the Aqua Dots had to have done something, but I wasn't sure because I didn't think they were toxic. There was no warning on the box that said they were toxic. It just said that they were a choking hazard," the child's mother said.

Dr. Matt Jaeger of Arkansas Children's Hospital treated the child and said he was worried when he first saw him. The hospital started tests and performed a head scan, but within hours the boy recovered.

Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into gamma hydroxy butyrate, the so-called date rape drug. The compound can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.

Australia-based Moose Enterprises distributes the toys in 40 countries.

Peter Mahon, a spokesman for Moose Enterprises, said the company was conducting an internal investigation to determine how the chemical came to be included in the beads, which are made at a factory in Shenzhen in China's Guangdong province.

He said "ingredients were switched at the point of manufacture without Moose's knowledge." He declined to give the name of the factory, saying it was "not appropriate" at this time.

The toys were supposed to be made using 1,5-pentanediol, a nontoxic compound found in glue, but instead contained the harmful 1,4-butanediol, which is widely used in cleaners and plastics.

It's not clear why 1,4-butanediol was substituted, though there is a significant price difference. The Chinese online trading platform ChemNet China lists the price of 1,4-butanediol at between about $1,350-$2,800 per metric ton, while the price for 1,5-pentanediol is about $9,700 per metric ton.

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