September 4, 2012 — Several federal safety agencies are attempting to raise public awareness about the dangers of small, coin-sized “button” batteries, which have caused at least 14 deaths and 40,000 serious injuries in children.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also calling on the electronics industry to improve safety standards and design products in a way that prevents children from accessing the batteries.
Button batteries are commonly found in toys, electronics, calculators, remote controls, singing greeting cards, small flashlights, and many other products. If the batteries are ingested, they may release corrosive hydroxide, which can cause severe ulcers or life-threatening injury to the esophagus and gastrointestinal system. These injuries often occur very quickly — by the time the child shows symptoms (vomiting, abdominal pain), the battery has usually already caused severe injury.
Experts are warning parents that there is a narrow timeframe to remove the batteries before they cause severe injury. Therefore, any time a parent suspects that a button battery has been swallowed, the child should be taken to the hospital immediately.
The CPCS is also warning that seniors may accidentally swallow the batteries, which are commonly found in hearing aids. Seniors have been injured when they mistook the batteries for pills.
Dr. Toby Litovitz of the National Capital Poison Center found that the rate of severe injury and death increased seven-fold since 1985. The majority of injuries were caused by 20-mm 3-volt button batteries. It is not surprising that the number of injuries and deaths attributed to button batteries has increased substantially in the last 30 years, because these products have increased in popularity. However, the CPSC is concerned that safety standards have not kept pace with the increased ubiquity of these products.
A study published in Pediatrics found that from 1990 until 2009, there were 65,000 emergency room visits involving children who swallowed button batteries. These researchers also found that the annual incidence of these injuries doubled between 1990 and 2009.
This research suggests that button batteries are causing more injuries now than ever before. Several federal agencies are attempting to address the problem by raising public awareness. They are also calling on the electronics industry to voluntarily improve standards and place more prominent warnings on products containing the batteries. It is possible that products could be designed in a way that minimizes the risk that children will be able to remove small batteries. It is also possible that the batteries themselves could be designed in a way that minimizes the risk of injury or death if they are accidentally swallowed.
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