WASHINGTON - Millions of Chinese-made toys for children have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when ingested. Two children in the United States and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.
With only seven weeks until Christmas, the recall is yet another blow to the toy industry - already bruised by a slew of recalls this summer.
In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. They are called Bindeez in Australia, where they were named toy of the year this year.
Moose Enterprises said Bindeez and Aqua Dots are made at the same factory, which is located in Shenzhen. The company said the product is distributed in 40 countries but it was up to the individual countries and distributors to to pull the product.
Both are sold by Australia-based Moose Enterprises.
The toy beads are sold in general merchandise stores and over the Internet for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be fused together when sprayed with water.
Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into the so-called date rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate. When eaten, the compound - made from common and easily available ingredients - can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma, and death.
Naren Gunja from Australia's Poisons Information Center said the drug's effect on children was "quite serious . . . and potentially life-threatening."
The recall was disclosed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday several hours after published reports in Australia.
The two US children who swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, a commission spokesman said yesterday.
In Australia, the toys were ordered off store shelves Tuesday when officials learned that a 2-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl were hospitalized after swallowing the beads. A 19-month-old toddler also was being treated.
The news jolted the toy industry because Aqua Dots has been one of the few bright stars of the toy-selling season. The item, which was heavily advertised, had appeared on many toy experts' list of must-have holiday toys, and toy sellers are now in the midst of canceling advertising and scrambling to figure out how to replace it.
Chris Byrne, a New York-based toy consultant, noted that the incidents could have been isolated, and Spin Master may be erring on the side of caution.
"This is something that they could not have foreseen. This is an extremely hot toy. . . . It's a little scary," Byrne said.
In a statement, Toys "R" Us Inc., said that it issued on Tuesday a "stop sale" on the entire Spin Master Aqua Dots product line in its North American stores and on its website after it learned of the news.