Button Batteries and Magnets: Holiday Toys Pose Danger to Small Children - NBC Bay Area
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Button Batteries and Magnets: Holiday Toys Pose Danger to Small Children

A hot dog and button batteries remind parents to play it safe during the holidays

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    An emergency department physician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland used a hot dog to demonstrate how button batteries can burn the digestive system of small children who swallow them. (Published Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016)

    Public health advocates and physicians caution parents and caregivers to buy toys carefully this holiday season, and keep toys with small parts out of the reach of small children.

    Dr. Kevan McCarten-Gibbs, Children’s Hospital Emergency Medicine Director, said Wednesday that he worries most about button batteries and magnets which small children can swallow.

    Even spent batteries release a charge as they travel through the digestive tract and can burn a child’s gastrointestinal lining.

    To illustrate this for reporters and pediatric residents, McCarten-Gibbs sliced open a hot dog and stuffed it with three small batteries. Within a couple of hours, the beef around the batteries turned black as the electrical charge burnt the meat.

    The California Public Interest Research Group demonstrated toys that had been recalled but were still available for sale online at a press conference at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital on Wednesday.

    “Parents and caregivers should watch out for recalled toys in their homes as well as in online stores,” said Jason Pfeifle, a public health advocate with CALPIRG.

    Pfeifle showed off a mini drone that had been recalled because the USB charger overheated dangerously, and a pacifier clip that could break and release small parts that could be ingested by a baby. He said the toys were still available for sale online and might still be in use in homes.

    Each year the organization releases an annual “Trouble in Toyland” report. The Toy Industry Association responded by saying the “report doesn’t indicate any trouble at all.”

    Many of the products listed in the report aren’t really toys, the statement read. Instead, the report covers juvenile products like hoverboards, children’s jewelry, and pacifier clips, and shouldn’t be included in a toy safety report. Toy safety rules in the U.S. are among the strictest in the world.

    McCarten-Gibbs said most small objects that kids swallow, like Legos, pass through without causing damage. But multiple small magnets can bind together in the stomach and create a blockage.

    Emergency room doctors take cases of swallowed magnets and batteris seriously. The usual procedure is to take an X-ray to locate the foreign objects, and sometimes surgically remove the object.

    Parents who suspect that a child has swallowed something inedible should consult a pediatrician and count the remaining objects to see how many are have been ingested.

    McCarten-Gibbs said new Christmas toys present new challenges, especially when a toddler discovers an older child’s toy in the middle of the chaos that often accompanies the holidays.

    He advised parents to keep an eye on musical greeting cards, television remotes, and toys to make sure curious children can’t take them apart and ingest batteries or small parts.

    Contact Raquel Maria Dillon: raquel.dillon@nbcuni.com and @RaquelMDillon