China's government has suspended exports of toys covered with a toxic chemical that have been subject to recalls from Australia to the United States after sickening children, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.
China's move came as seven more U.S. children were reported ailing after ingesting Chinese-made toy beads because of the toxic chemical coating, bringing the total of U.S. children sickened to nine, according to a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The Chinese government's quality control administration issued the export ban, sealed the toys at the sites where they were produced and ordered an investigation, Xinhua said in a brief report.
Millions of units of the popular toys, which are sold as Aqua Dots in the United States and as Bindeez in Australia, were recalled in those countries as well as in Britain, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere this past week after children began falling sick from swallowing the toy's bead-like parts.
Tests showed they were coated with the industrial chemical 1,4-butanediol. When ingested the chemical metabolizes into the "date-rape" drug gamma hydroxy butyrate, and may cause breathing problems, loss of consciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and death. In addition to the nine in the U.S., three children in Australia have taken sick.
The new reports of the sickened U.S. children, six of whom were hospitalized, came from at least five states: Texas, Delaware, New Hampshire, Illinois and Utah, said CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese.
The agency recalled the Aqua Dots toy Wednesday after two children were hospitalized after eating the beads.
The U.S. recall covers 4.2 million of the Aqua Dots toys, which consist of colored beads that can be arranged into designs and then fused together when sprayed with water.
The agency received its first report of a sickened child Monday and ordered stores to pull the toy two days later, Vallese said.
For China, the recall is the latest in a slew of product quality scandals that has tarnished the image of the country as an exporter of reliable goods. The government has tried to shore up China's reputation by increasing inspections, selectively punishing companies and launching a publicity campaign to boost quality.
Few details were available about the latest export suspension and how a popular toy became coated with a toxic chemical. The toys' maker, Australia-based Moose Enterprises, has said the product was manufactured in China. But neither the company nor the Chinese government have identified the factory or factories where the toys were produced.
Reached by telephone Saturday, a duty officer at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, which issued the ban, said officials were not available to comment.
In its report, Xinhua said inspectors "sealed the bead toys at the producer" whose name was not released.
Companies worldwide have increasingly outsourced manufacturing, often choosing Chinese factories for their cost and quality. But heated competition among factories and the rising cost of labor, land and fuel have sometimes put pressure on profits, causing some producers to cut corners.
In the latest case, the Aqua Dots or Bindeez were supposed to have been coated with nontoxic 1,5-pentanediol, a chemical commonly used in computer printer ink. But that chemical generally sells for three or four times the price of the toxic compound found on the tainted toys, 1,4-butanediol. ( AP )