Millions of Chinese-made toys have been recalled in the United States, South Africa and Australia after they were found to contain a substance linked to the date-rape drug GHB. A number of children have been taken to hospital after swallowing tiny beads known as Bindeez in Australia and Aqua Dots in the United States. The popular toy has been withdrawn from shops because of fears it may contain a potentially lethal hallucinogenic drug. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Concern about Bindeez in Australia began when two children - a two-year-old boy and a girl of 10 - collapsed after swallowing the bright and colorful beads.
Both youngsters suffered seizures and were unconscious by the time they arrived in hospitals here in Sydney. A third child also needed hospital treatment. The youngsters are all recovering.
Australian poisons expert Dr Naren Gunja says the beads apparently contained an unauthorized chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug.
"When you ingest a significant number of these beads, there is a chemical in the beads, which is then metabolized by the body, into GHB, gammahydroxybutyrate, which causes you to become drowsy initially, and then eventually, you become comatose," explained Dr. Gunja. "This toxin can cause you to become comatose, from which you may either stop breathing or obstruct your airway and potentially cause death, yes."
One of the children who needed emergency treatment was 10-year-old Charlotte Lehane. Her mother, Heather, says it was a frightening experience.
"She was just in such a state, so unwell. She was pale, and just the vomiting and the fitting," she said. "I still can't sleep very well at night, because I just wonder what if, what if I didn't try to wake her up, what if I'd let her sleep a bit longer, what if she didn't actually vomit these beads up, we wouldn't know what was making her sick."
Authorities around Australia quickly banned the sale of Bindeez beads. Officials in the United States, South Africa and New Zealand made similar moves.
The beads were supposed to be made with a non-toxic compound that binds them together when sprayed with water.
The Australian manufacturer Moose Enterprise says the beads were made in a Chinese factory. The firm admits something clearly went wrong in the production process. Moose Enterprise said in a statement that recent batches contain chemicals that were not part of the approved formula.
The firm says in the future, Bindeez beads will be coated with a "foul-tasting ingredient" to keep children from swallowing them.
This scare is the latest in a series of toy recalls. In August, almost a million Chinese-made toys were recalled after concerns about lead poisoning.