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“Water Balz” Toys Can Hurt Children and Pets

An extremely popular children’s toy on the market is also a deadly hazard for smaller children and household pets. Called “Water Balz,” the colorful playthings come tiny and round, resembling nothing so much as marbles. But they are definitely not marbles. They are composed of a special polymer that is extremely absorbent. When water hits one of these “Water Balz,” whether squirted from a squirt gun, or thrown from a bucket or pail, the toy quickly grows, reaching the dimensions of a racquetball. The package for the toy brags that it is capable of expanding to as big as 400 times its original size.

Both children of all ages and many adults are amused, amazed and delighted by this phenomenon. The problem is that if a smaller child or a pet cat or dog places it in their mouth, or swallows it, saliva and other bodily fluids are rapidly absorbed and the toy swells up gigantically inside the child or pet, potentially causing great harm or even death, and possibly requiring emergency surgery to properly remove.

The medical journal Pediatrics recently reported on the case of a young infant who swallowed one of these toys left lying around her family home. From a tiny sphere easily swallowed, it quickly swelled up to a sizeable ball that literally obstructed her intestines after absorbing digestive juices. It could not naturally pass out of the body, because it was just too huge by that point. Doctors needed to quickly surgically remove the toy before it caused even more damage.

The 9-month-old girl may have mistakenly believed that the small object was candy. She suffered excruciating pain for over two days. Doctors had to insert a small camera inside her belly to see where the toy was in her intestines, where it was already the size of a golf ball and still growing. The toy had not been hers, but belonged to her older sister. The toy is definitely not recommended for use by children under the age of 4. But anything given to one child will probably be quickly accessible to any other child living in or visiting the household. 

While this dangerous toy, because of its sudden growth, is a somewhat unique example, it is hardly the only item posing a hazard to children when swallow. Hospital emergency rooms say they treat thousands of children every year who have mistakenly swallowed small toy parts or other items, many of which may pose choking hazards. 

The little batteries for watches and many other electronic devices that look like buttons are sometimes also mistaken for candy. In the last 20 years, it is estimated that as many as 66,000 children in the U.S. swallowed such batteries. 

Federal regulators also say that just in the last three years, emergency rooms have treated approximately 1,700 people who have swallowed rare-earth magnets whose powerful magnetic fields can be extremely damaging inside the human body, sometimes pinching flesh and causing abscesses to develop.