Toy of the year contains deadly drug fantasy

Last updated 00:00 07/11/2007
WITHDRAWAL: Ministry of Consumer Affairs officials are working with suppliers to instigate a voluntary recall of Bindeez.

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Two Auckland preschool children needed hospital treatment after swallowing a popular toy's "magic beads" which contain a chemical that converts into the toxic illegal drug fantasy when ingested.

The Hong Kong-manufactured craft toy Bindeez – Australia's 2007 Toy Of The Year – was yesterday pulled off shelves in New Zealand and Australia.

One child was unconscious on arrival at Auckland's Starship children's hospital after swallowing the beads, The New Zealand Herald reported today.

A second child had also been treated at Starship in the past month after ingesting beads.

Both children had recovered.

In Australia three children had been treated in hospital in the past 10 days after swallowing the beads.

New Zealand Ministry of Consumer Affairs spokesman Martin Rushton said last night that the importer of the Bindeez beads sets had agreed to stop supplying them. Ministry officials were working with companies in the supply chain to instigate a voluntary recall.

Across the Tasman, Bindeez had officially been banned in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Western Australia, with other states likely to follow.

Testing by scientists in NSW found the chemical link to the drug gamma-hydroxy butyrate (GHB) – also known as fantasy or grievous bodily harm – which can also cause drowsiness, coma and death.

The drug was a factor in the cruise ship death of Brisbane mother Dianne Brimble, a Sydney inquest this year found.

"It can cause seizure-like activity and fitting, and both of the children that presented to the Children's Hospital at Westmead (in Sydney) had these symptoms. . . quite serious effects and potentially life-threatening," Sydney-based poisons specialist Dr Naren Gunja said.

Children playing with the toy arrange the variously coloured beads on a plastic grid and then, once sprayed with water, the beads become stuck together and the shape can be removed.

The drug was a factor in the death of the Brisbane mother Dianne Brimble on board a cruise ship in 2002, a Sydney inquest found this year. It can cause drowsiness, coma and death.

The toy has now been banned in all states and territories except Victoria, where it was a public holiday yesterday. Target moved to voluntarily remove Bindeez from its stores nationwide.

The Melbourne headquarters of Moose Enterprises, which imports Bindeez from Hong Kong, was unattended.

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Heather Lehane, the mother of 10-year-old Charlotte, said her daughter had lost consciousness about half an hour after swallowing the beads and had vomited a "thick goo".

Dr Naren Gunja, of Westmead Hospital's Poisons Information Centre, told the Sydney Morning Herald it appeared that pentane diol, a non-toxic substance commonly used on toys for its glue-like properties, had been substituted in the manufacturing process with butane diol.

It has yet to be determined whether the substitution in the Hong Kong factory was the result of human error or cost-cutting.

The Office of Fair Trading said initial inquiries suggested that the poisoning was accidental.

Earlier this year, millions of tubes of toothpaste were recalled worldwide, including in Australia, after a Chinese manufacturer substituted the highly toxic solvent diethylene glycol for glycerine.

Australia's Fair Trading Minister, Linda Burney, said parents should immediately put Bindeez out of children's reach.

She said Moose Enterprises had been shocked to learn of the toy's drug links and was co-operating with the investigation.

Children playing with the toy arrange the coloured beads on a plastic grid. Once sprayed with water, the beads stick together and the shape can be removed.

with AAP and NZPA

- Sydney Morning Herald

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