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Health Canada warning about life-threatening risks of water beads

Canadians are being warned about the potentially life-threatening risk of water beads for young children.

These water-absorbing gel beads, also known as jelly beads, hydro orbs, crystal soil, sensory beads or orb beads, can grow up to 1,500 times their size when put in water.

Health Canada is warning parents and caregivers that if a child ingests a water bead, it can continue to grow inside the child’s body, which can lead to life-threatening injuries.

“They’re found in a wide variety of stores, because they’re in a wide variety of products,” said product safety officer Melissa Legary in an interview on Wednesday.

“They can be found in art kits, toys, stress balls, crystal soil and even in gardening products.”

Since water beads are brightly coloured, it may lead to some people, including children, mistaking them for candy. The beads are also small, slippery and bouncy, so they can easily roll away.

Health Canada noted that in a several incidents, a child got their hands on a bead after it had rolled to another area of the home. There have also been situations where a younger sibling was able to access the beads that had been purchased for the older sibling, as well as incidents where a child accessed them at school or in childcare.

“If one falls it can roll around and it can be found by either a pet or a young child, and because they’re brightly coloured they do look like they can be candy and they can be ingested,” Legary said.

Health Canada said there have been a number of international incidents where children ingested water beads and sustained life-threatening injuries that required surgery.

In the United States, 248 water bead cases were reported to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from Jan. 1, 2017, to Nov. 22, 2022. Of these incidents, 112 involved ingestion, 100 involved ear canal insertion, 35 involved nasal cavity insertion, and one involved an eye injury.

Health Canada’s Consumer Product Safety Program received six reports of water bead-related incidents from June 20, 2011, to Jan. 31, 2023. Three of these situations involved injuries, one of which was severe.

Anyone who suspects their child has ingested a water bead should call the Canadian Poison Centre hotline. Parents and caregivers should also monitor for symptoms such as vomiting; abdominal or chest pain; constipation; lethargy; drooling; difficulty breathing or swallowing; and loss of appetite.

Legary noted water beads are unlikely to show up on an X-ray.

“If you do suspect your child has ingested one of these, you need to see a health-care professional and let them know that you do have water beads in the house,” she said.

If a water bead is placed in the nose or ear, you need to get medical help.

Water beads should always be stored in airtight containers that are out of sight and reach of kids. Health Canada recommends that if you have children under five to avoid having water beads in your household.

If a child over the age of five is using water beads, a parent or caregiver should closely supervise, and thoroughly clean the surrounding area once the child is done playing.

Canadians can go to the Health Canada website to learn more about water beads, or to report a health and safety concern. Top Stories

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