Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

TOP STORY >>Pilot’s son survives after swallowing toy with 'date-rape drug'

A Jacksonville toddler is back home from Arkansas Children’s Hospital after snapping out of a coma hours after he swallowed beads from a toxic toy set imported from China.

Shelby Esses, the 20-month-old toddler’s mother, said Thursday she knew her son Jacob was ill when he began to stumble, seemed drunk and started vomiting on Oct. 30.

Jacob fell down and was limp after getting into his older sister’s Aqua Dots, a Chinese-made toy recalled Wednesday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “And that’s when we knew what he had eaten and that things were pretty bad,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The toddler passed out when the beads’ coating metabolized into a chemical compound known as the “date-rape drug.”
“I thought he was going to die. I didn’t want to tell my kids that, of course, but I thought he was going to die,” said Esses, whose son swallowed a handful of Spin Master Aqua Dots the day before Halloween. “It was horrible.”

For a time, he slipped out of consciousness — waking up only to vomit.

“I thought that the Aqua Dots had to have done something, but I wasn’t sure because I didn’t think they were toxic. There was no warning on the box that said they were toxic. It just said that they were a choking hazard,” the child’s mother said.
Jack’s father, 1st Lt. Jonathan Esses, is training to pilot C-130 planes at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville. He is assigned to the 714th Training Squadron, which is part of the 314th Operations Group.

Two children in the U.S. and four in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

Dr. Matt Jaeger, of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, treated the child and said he was very worried when he saw him. The hospital started tests and performed a head scan, but within hours the boy recovered.

“He got better so fast we ended up letting him go home,” Jaeger said. Scientists say a chemical coating on the beads, when ingested, metabolizes into gamma hydroxy butyrate, the so-called date-rape drug.

The compound can induce unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death.

“It was pretty dramatic,” the doctor told ABC. “He was unconscious in this coma for about six hours. And then over the course of just a few minutes, went from being completely asleep to wide awake and playing like nothing ever happened.”

“He was out for about six hours and he woke up just kind of on his own and within minutes was back to his normal self. He was just happy and yelling and wanting to get out of the hospital and causing a stir, all of the nurses wanted to come see him,” Shelby Esses said.

Before the child returned home, his father crawled around on the carpet to make sure every Aqua Dot was out of the house. Jaeger said Shelby Esse tracked down toy components and provided them to the hospital lab, which later identified the chemical.

Retailer Toys “R” Us issued a “stop sale” for Aqua Dots on Tuesday in its North American stores and on its Web site after it learned of the news.

Spin Master Aqua Dots can be arranged into designs and then fused together when sprayed with water. Australia-based Moose Enterprises distributes the toys in 40 countries.

Peter Mahon, a spokesman for Moose Enterprises, said the company was conducting an internal investigation to determine how the chemical came to be included in the beads, which are made at a factory in Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong Province.
He said “ingredients were switched at the point of manufacture without Moose’s knowledge.” He declined to give the name of the factory, saying it was “not appropriate” at this time.

“Really the main thing we’re doing is concentrating our efforts on making people aware that children shouldn’t be playing with these products and getting them back,” Mahon said in a telephone interview.

In Australia, the toy was named toy of the year at an industry function. But the toys, known as Bindeez in that country, 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 and an 18-month-old also were being treated.Since the spring, toy companies have recalled millions of Chinese-made goods worldwide. Products including Barbie doll accessories and toy cars were pulled off shelves because of concerns about lead paint or tiny detachable magnets that could be swallowed.

A company spokeswoman for Moose Enterprises’ Hong Kong office said Aqua Dots production was outsourced to a mainland Chinese factory. She refused to elaborate and referred all further requests for comment to the company’s head office in Australia.

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

The toys were supposed to be made using 1,5-pentanediol, a nontoxic compound found in glue, but instead contained the harmful 1,4-butanediol, which is widely used in cleaners and plastics.

The Food and Drug Administration in 1999 declared the chemical a Class I Health Hazard, meaning it can cause life-threatening harm. Both chemicals are manufactured in China and elsewhere, including by major multinational companies, and are also marketed over the Internet.

It’s not clear why 1,4-butanediol was substituted, though there is a significant price difference.

The Chinese online trading platform ChemNet China lists the price of 1,4 butanediol at between about $1,350-$2,800 per metric ton, while the price for 1,5-pentanediol is about $9,700 per metric ton.

Versions of the toy seized in Hong Kong were being tested Thursday, a customs official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of policy.

If the tests come back positive for the chemical, suppliers of the toy in Hong Kong could face a year in jail and fines of $12,877, she said. A spokeswoman for the CPSC said Thursday that parents should heed the warning against using the product.

“If a child ingests them, the glue turns into a toxic substance and it’s very serious,” Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the CPSC, said on CBS’ “Early Show.” “We want parents very much to heed this warning.”

Associated Press writers Peggy Harris in Little Rock, Meraiah Foley in Sydney, Australia, and Dikky Sinn in Hong Kong contributed to this report.