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New Bipartisan Senate Bill Would Ban the Sale of Water Beads for Children

Water beads have been linked to severe risks to children if swallowed, including internal injuries, long-term health issues, and even death 

WASHINGTON, DC — Consumer Reports (CR) applauded today’s introduction of Esther’s Law in the U.S. Senate to help protect children from the dangers of water beads. This bipartisan bill would prohibit water beads from being sold as toys, educational products, sensory tools, or art materials for children under 14. Esther’s Law is named for Esther Jo Bethard, a 10-month-old from North Prairie, Wisconsin, who died after ingesting water beads. As detailed in a CR investigation, water beads pose severe risks to children if accidentally inhaled or ingested, including internal injuries, long-term health issues, and even death. 

Dozens of consumer advocacy organizations, parent advocates, and disability justice groups have endorsed Esther’s Law, including Consumer Reports and That Water Bead Lady. Amazon, Walmart, Target, and other major retailers have also endorsed the bill. 

“Water beads may seem innocent, but their potential for harm is anything but,” said Gabe Knight, safety policy analyst at Consumer Reports. “They send thousands of children to the ER every year, and children have died after swallowing them. This bill is a crucial step toward preventing future tragedies. With bipartisan backing and strong support from parents, consumer advocates, and retailers, Esther’s Law should be passed without delay.”

The introduction of Esther’s Law represents a beacon of hope for countless families who have experienced the devastating effects of a water bead injury, said parent advocate Ashley Haugen, founder and president of That Water Bead Lady. “This law embodies the courage of survivors like Kipley Haugen and Kennedy Mitchell and honors the memory of Esther Bethard. We are grateful to the lawmakers who have listened to our concerns and are taking action to make children’s safety a top priority.”

Esther’s Law, introduced by Senators Tammy Baldwin, Bob Casey, and Susan Collins, would ban water bead products marketed for children under fourteen years old as toys, educational materials, sensory tools, or art materials. The bill would also direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to finalize a safety standard for water beads that would not be subject to the ban and remain on sale in the market. The rule would include warning labels on packages and may include requirements on the colors of the water beads. 

Representative Frank Pallone introduced a separate bill, the Ban Water Beads Act, in the House of Representatives in November 2023. The bill, which CR endorsed, would similarly prohibit water beads from being sold as toys, educational products, or art materials. 

Consumer Reports’ September 2023 investigation exposed the lethal hazards associated with water beads, commonly marketed as toys and sensory aids for children. These small, colorful expanding gel balls can easily be swallowed, inhaled, or inserted in an ear or nostril and grow dramatically, once inside a child’s body and wet. Water beads can be challenging to clean up and remove from the home if spilled or dropped as they easily scatter, roll away, and become hidden under furniture, in baseboards, or carpets. Despite being banned in some countries, water beads remain available for sale in the U.S.

Following CR’s investigation and outreach to major retailers, Amazon, Target, Walmart, Michaels, and other companies told CR they have taken various steps to restrict the sale of water beads marketed for young children. Consumer Reports advocates for the complete removal of water beads for children from the market through federal regulation. CR and That Water Bead Lady also launched petitions urging the CPSC to ban or sharply limit the sale of water beads that collectively received over 100,000 signatures. 

CR offers the following tips to help keep their families safe from water beads:

  • Avoid having water beads in the home if children are or will ever be present.
  • Use digestible food, such as rice, beans, pasta, or peas, for sensory play. 
  • If water beads are already in the home, put them in a tightly sealed container and throw them away immediately.

Media Contact: Emily Akpan, emily.akpan@consumer.org