(Guardian) - Half a million Chinese-made children's toys were recalled across the UK and Ireland yesterday after concerns that they contain a chemical which converts to the so-called date rape drug GHB when eaten.
The UK distributor of Bindeez beads, Character Group, in Oldham, asked retailers and consumers to return the products after reports that at least six children in the US and Australia have been taken to hospital severely ill from swallowing the beads.
The firm, which has imported Bindeez for over a year, said there had been five known cases of children eating the beads in the UK with no ill effects, and the voluntary recall was precautionary.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 Bindeez kits, which consist of toy beads which can be arranged into patterns and join together when sprayed with water, have been distributed to major retailers.
Spain also recalled the toys yesterday, following the lead of the US and Australia. In the US, 4.2m of the kits, known there as Aqua Dots, were withdrawn after two children were taken to hospital. An 18-month-old baby was one of four children to fall ill after swallowing the beads in Australia. The symptoms of the drug are unconsciousness, seizures, drowsiness, coma and occasionally death.
Richard King, chairman of Character Group, said the toys distributed in the UK were unlikely to be dangerous. "We believe that the product we have is safe, but it's going to be some time until we get results of the toxicology test reports and rather than take a chance, safety is of prime importance and therefore we have taken this precaution."
Mr King said he believed an "unapproved formulation" might have been used in the manufacturing process and this was being investigated at the factory in Shenzhen, in China's Guangdong province. The toys were supposed to be coated with 1,5-pentanediol, a non-toxic compound, but instead contained 1,4-butanediol, which when ingested metabolises into the date-rape drug gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB). Both are industrial solvents but 1,4-butanediol costs about a fifth less, raising concerns about the integrity of the huge Chinese toy market.
Replacement beads, ordered direct from Character, will be covered in Britex, a solution with a bitter taste which is used in household goods and is aimed at child safety. Moose Enterprises, the Australian company that distributes Bindeez to 40 countries, said it was investigating how the toxin ended up in its product.