The Dangerous Truth Of Aqua Dots

The world is full of products created by people who never seemed to give even a first thought as to what would happen to it after it flew off the shelf. Think of the blender that doesn't blend, the "EZ-open" package you have to knife your way into, the wireless speakers that never connect. You end up frustrated, asking yourself, "Didn't anyone at least try this at any point in the process from ideation to distribution?" (Then you realize it's your own fault for buying an automatic all-in-one juicer/sausage grinder/Bluetooth speaker.) One of the industries that seems to have the highest rate of un-thought-out products is the toy trade, which at one point tried to save a buck by using lead to paint playthings they for some reason hoped children wouldn't lick.

At the dawn of the 21st century, one group of absolute geniuses got together to design a top-selling toy for children age four and up. Apparently having forgotten that children, especially very young children, will put anything and everything they can in their mouths, they came up with Aqua Dots. The toy consisted of scads of tiny beads with which kids could make all kinds of multidimensional designs, then spray them with water to make the beads stick together until the results were quickly forgotten and thrown away. Genius.

Then, in 2007, the glaringly obvious happened.

Aqua Dots: tiny little balls of date rape drug - for kids

Aqua Dots look like delicious little balls of rainbow-colored sugar. Children under the age of four tend to be unable to read warning labels. Perhaps it's no surprise that some kids the balls in their mouths and swallowed them up. But the results were a bit more dire than a bit of kaleidoscopic poo. According to CNN, the balls were coated with a chemical that metabolized into gamma-hydroxy butyrate, or GHB: the date rape drug. "GHB is this drug that in low doses actually causes euphoria," said CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. "It can cause something known as hypotonia, where all your muscles just become very flaccid ... And it can cause people to become amnestic ... which is why it became a date-rape drug."

And that's what it does in the bodies of grown-ups. In toddlers, the result is a parent's worst nightmare. Children who ingested Aqua Dots — Bindeez Beads, as they were known to Australian ankle biters — suffered dizziness, vomiting, respiratory failure, and coma. Although the product was crowned toy of the year Down Under, and made WalMart's top 12 Christmas toys list in the U.S., its Canada-based distributor, Spin Master Ltd., was forced to recall the product. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advised parents to immediately get the toy out of children's reach and contact the distributor for replacement beads or a toy of equal value (because surely their other toys were safe).

Aqua Dots got taken to court and had to pay up

One of those kiddos dosed with date rape drug was 18-month-old Ryan Monje of Gilbert, Arizona. According to USA Today, after he was hospitalized for gulping down handfuls of Aqua Dots like a frat boy at a pill party, his parents sued Spin Master and Toys "R" Us in 2015 for selling them the dangerous toy. Their lawsuit alleged that the companies knowingly used the date rape drug instead of a safer chemical in order to save money. Spin Master denied the allegations (classic) and shifted the blame onto the Australian and Chinese companies that did the manufacturing and initial distribution.

But the federal jury wasn't buying it. AZ Central reported that the defendants were forced to pay the Monjes $435,000 in damages. Spin Master was found to be 15 percent responsible, while the majority of the remaining responsibility fell on the Chinese and Australian companies involved. The jury found no fault with Toys "R" Us, but Ryan's father, Mark, who reportedly watched as his son ate tiny balls of chemically coated plastic, received two percent of the blame.

Perhaps if you're a parent looking to keep your kids entertained, you need to be vigilant about what they are putting in their bodies. Next time, try going for a classic cardboard box mixed with a bit of imagination, or trusty violent video games. Almost anything is better than giving your kids the date rape drug.