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The Nation

U.S. officials pull Chinese-made toys with 'date rape' drug

November 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Millions of Chinese-made toys 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 U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

The recall is yet another blow to the toy industry -- already bruised by a slew of recalls during the summer.

In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. It is called Bindeez in Australia, where it was named toy of the year at an industry function earlier this year.

Moose Enterprises said Bindeez and Aqua Dots were made at the same factory in Shenzhen in China's southern Guangdong province.

Last week the Chinese government announced an export ban on more than 700 toy factories in the region because of shoddy products.

The company said that the product was distributed in 40 countries but that it was up to the individual countries and distributors to determine whether the product would be pulled.

The toy beads are sold in general merchandise stores and over the Internet for use in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs and fused 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 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 announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday several hours after published reports about the recall in Australia.

The two U.S. children who swallowed Aqua Dot beads went into nonresponsive comas, commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said Wednesday. A 20-month-old has recovered completely, while the other child, whose age was not known, has been released from a hospital after five days and is recovering, he said.

"To prevent any other child from being hurt, we are calling upon parents to take the product away immediately," Wolfson said.

In Australia, the toys were ordered off store shelves on 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 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, which, along with overall retailing, has gotten off to a sluggish start.

The item, which had been 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 toy consultant, said that the incidents could have been isolated, and that 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.

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