China-made toys contain 'date rape' drug - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

China-made toys contain 'date rape' drug

HONG KONG (AP) - China-made toys seized in Hong Kong were being tested Thursday after scientists in Australia found that similar ones contained a chemical that converts into a powerful "date rape" drug when ingested, officials said.

At least five children-two in the United States and three in Australia-have been hospitalized after swallowing the toy beads, which are used in arts and crafts projects. They can be arranged into designs and fused when sprayed with water.

Australian 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.

The toys were sent to a laboratory in Hong Kong for tests, 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.

Problems in China's toy industry came into focus earlier this year when Mattel Inc. recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys 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.

The latest toys under scrutiny are called Aqua Dots in the United States and Bindeez in Australia, where they were named toy of the year at an industry function.

Retailer Toys "R" Us Inc. said it issued a "stop sale" on the entire Spin Master Aqua Dots product line on Tuesday in its North American stores and on its Web site after it learned of the news. "We understand that Spin Master and U.S. regulatory authorities are investigating this product and we have asked Spin Master to fully explain what it believes happened," it said.

Toys "R" Us said it pulled all the toy beads from its stores in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia after officials in Australia ordered them off the shelves Tuesday.

A company spokeswoman for Moose Enterprises' Hong Kong office said the production of the toy 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.

"Our Hong Kong office is only responsible for operations such as logistics and shipping arrangements, we don't have any firsthand information," the employee, who would only give her surname, Lo, told The Associated Press.

Moose Enterprises said Bindeez and Aqua Dots are made at the same factory, which is in Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province. Last week, the government announced an export ban on more than 700 toy factories in the region because of shoddy products.

The company said the product is distributed in 40 countries.

The toys were supposed to use 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. However, there is a significant difference in price between the two chemicals. 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.

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, 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 toddler also was being treated.

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