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Button Batteries Sending 20 Kids To Emergency Rooms A Week

Button batteries are putting children's lives at risk, according to consumer watchdog Choice.

Button batteries are powerful, coin-sized batteries that are used in many toys and household products -- including remote controls, calculators, and kitchen scales.

Ten out of 17 common household products failed Choice's button battery safety test.

This involved drop tests on compliant items and looked at whether safety warnings were featured on the products.

Testers also checked to see whether a tool was required to remove the battery, and examined how much force was needed to remove the battery without the use of a tool.

The various sizes of button batteries. IMAGE: Sydney Children's Hospital Network

Choice's head of policy and campaigns Sarah Agar said a product safety law overhaul was needed.

“Unfortunately our laws are reactive,” Agar said.

“When tragedy or injury occurs, businesses might take action by ordering a recall, and injured people can seek remedies.

But that leaves many dangerous products on the shelves until someone else is hurt.”

READ MORE: Some Of The Most Expensive Child Seats Found To Be The Least Safe

At least one Australian child a month suffers a serious injury after swallowing or inserting a button battery. Two have died from swallowing button batteries.

According to South Australia Health, around 20 children present to hospital emergency departments every week in Australia due to a suspected button battery ingestion or insertion.

IMAGE: Getty Images

If ingested, a button battery can lodge in a child’s gastrointestinal tract. Once the metal comes into contact with saliva, an electrical current is triggered, causing a chemical reaction.

This can burn through a child's internal organs, potentially causing life-threatening damage to the lungs, heart, arteries and spine, and sometimes even resulting in death.

Agar said that while toys for children under three were legally required to have secure battery compartments, it was not mandatory for everyday household items.

"Industry is aware of this significant safety issue," said Agar.

The 10 household items that did not pass Choice's safety test. IMAGE: Choice

Agar said the Australian government should make it illegal to sell unsafe products and fine companies selling unsafe products.

Medical records of children with button battery injuries date back to the 1970s -- but it was a rare occurrence. In the past six years, there has been a spike in the number of reported severe and fatal button battery injuries.

In September last year, a two-year-old girl was seriously injured in Australia by a button battery she ingested that came from a  blood glucose meter given to her pregnant mother.

READ MORE: How To Save Your Child From Choking

In December 2017, Queensland Health funded a national surveillance program to collect data on severe button battery injuries.

In its first 15 months, the five-year program recorded 17 cases, 13 involving damage to the oesophagus.

The Australian Toy Association told 10 daily they support more stringent laws for all battery-product manufacturers -- not just toys.

"The Australian Toy Association ... would urge suppliers of products using button batteries to either comply with relevant requirements in the electrical safety standard covering their product or with the requirements in the code"

"We would also support the various State and Commonwealth Regulators in the enforcement of laws for the safety of consumer products".

In 2016 a government button battery National Strategy was developed by Australian Consumer Law (ACL) regulators, with the ACCC playing a coordinating role.

The report was released at the end of 2018 and since then a working group including the ACCC and State and Territory Fair Trading agencies has been formed.

The feasibility of changing laws is also being examined.

If you suspect a button battery ingestion or insertion, call Poisons Information on 131 126 for 24/7 expert advice.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au