New water beads warning: Some contain cancer-causing toxin

CPSC can't pursue legal action or a try to force recalls because companies involved, Jangostor and Tuladuo, are in China.

This PIRG test shows how big water beads can get after exposed to water, compared to the original size and compared to a quarter.

The dangers of water beads as a children’s toy have long been obvious: They’re typically the size of bb’s or peas and, if ingested by accident, they expand to the size of golf balls and can block an airway or cause an intestinal obstruction. Some are the size of a pinhead and can be almost impossible to keep track of or find if dropped on the floor.

For the first time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has warned that some water beads also contain toxics that are known to cause cancer.

Water beads are tiny beads that grow into squishy, Jello-like balls when exposed to saliva. They come in bright colors of the rainbow. They are often used as sensory toys for children with developmental disabilities. However, they may also look like gum balls or other candy.

Nearly 7,000 children were treated in emergency rooms from 2018 through 2022 for injuries or illnesses caused by water beads, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

There has also been at least one death blamed on water beads: a 10-month-old in Wisconsin who died in July 2023. 

The CPSC’s new warnings say some water beads contain acrylamide, which is a violation of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. Acrylamide is a known carcinogen. The CPSC urges families to throw away water beads from Jangostor Large Water Beads and Tuladuo Water Bead Sets because they contain toxic levels of acrylamide.

Products under both brands were sold on Amazon. The manufacturers, Jangostor and Tuladuo US, both in China, have not agreed to a recall deemed “acceptable” by the CPSC. The Tuladuo sets were also sold on Amazon by Dohuan US, also in China. Dohuan hasn’t responded to the CPSC’s request for a recall. The CPSC can’t pursue legal action or a recall because the manufacturers aren’t in the United States.

The CPSC also knows of at least three serious incidents involving the two brands after toddlers ingested water beads and then required surgery to remove them. Two 2-year-olds needed surgery to remove ingested Jangostor water beads and a 1-year-old required surgery to remove an ingested Tuladuo water bead. 

Courtesy of CPSC | Public Domain
The CPSC issued warnings about Jangostor and Tuladuo brand water beads because they contain acrylamide, a known carcinogen. The CPSC can't pursue a recall or do anything more than issue a warning because the manufacturers are in China.

Besides the baby who died in Wisconsin in 2023 in connection with Buffalo Games water beads, 9-month-old child in Maine, was seriously injured in November 2022 after swallowing Buffalo Games water beads sold by Target, and required surgery because of the intestinal obstruction.

The CPSC last year issued a stern warning that all water beads look harmless and even look like candy, but they can cause choking, injuries and even death. They’re made of super-absorbent polymer and can grow to more than 100 times their original size, often the size of a golf ball or even a tennis ball.

The safety regulator recommends keeping water beads away from any environment where young children may be at some point, storing water beads securely away from young children and not allowing children to play with them without constant supervision. In addition, childcare centers, camps and schools are urged to not have water beads at all.

It’s important for families to heed the warnings, CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka said in a statement. “Water beads can harm your child in multiple ways: through expanding and blocking intestinal pathways and also through leeching toxic chemicals. To make matters worse, some water bead products are labeled ‘nontoxic,’ but that statement should not be taken at face value.”

Trumka added that it’s important that many companies stopped selling water beads under pressure, including Amazon, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Joann’s, Shein, Kohl’s, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. “But just because they are not going to be sold going forward doesn’t mean they’re not still in people’s homes.”


Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.

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