Super-absorbent polymer beads

Super-absorbent polymer beads may present a choking risk, particularly to children.

The basics

Super-absorbent polymers are substances that are able to absorb and hold large quantities of fluids. These polymers are commonly used as water-retaining agents for horticultural applications and disposable hygiene products. The beads are also currently supplied as a decorative, water retaining product for use with household displays of cut flowers.

If ingested or inhaled, the beads have a high potential for causing choking or obstruction and these symptoms may appear long after the child has come into contact with the product. The nature of the substance leads to diagnostic difficulties as the beads will not show up in x-rays.

Using super-absorbent polymers safely

Super-absorbent polymers that are sold as small, multicoloured dry beads — with the intention of soaking in water to grow into jelly-like orbs — are a hazard to any small child or infant who comes into contact with the products.

The dry beads are easily spilled, and may attach to an infant’s hands, being transferred to the mouth or nose. When soaked in water, the beads have the appearance of jelly-like sweets and may be attractive to young children.

Super-absorbent polymers in children's toys

Although these substances are readily available in various forms, the promotion of them for use in children’s toys and craft products is of concern on safety grounds. The product is marketed in some jurisdictions as a craft toy for children aged 5 and over.

Trading Standards considers that this is inappropriate given the hazards. The product wouldn't comply with the requirements of AS/NZS ISO 8124.1 Safety of toys – Part 1: Safety aspects related to mechanical and physical properties particularly the mandatory provisions relating to choking hazards.

Promotion and sale of super-absorbent polymers

Where the beads are displayed for sale in a manner or position which alludes to its use as a toy, or for children’s craft purposes, there may be a breach of the Fair Trading Act — for non-compliance with the mandatory standard relating to small parts.

Suppliers should therefore ensure that dry beads of super-absorbent polymers are not packaged, promoted or displayed in a child-appealing way.

If we become aware that this product is being marketed in such a way, we may take action to prohibit the supply of the product in the form of dry beads for this purpose.

There will be no restrictions on the supply of the product for applications such as horticultural use, or as a component of other manufactured products.