'Child killers': Powerful new campaign warns parents about 'deadly' household item

Photo: A new campaign is urging parents to be aware of the serious risks associated with button batteries.
Photo: A new campaign is urging parents to be aware of the serious risks associated with button batteries. Photo: ACCC

A chilling new campaign is urging parents to be aware of the serious and potentially fatal risks associated with button batteries.

Launched by the Australian Competition and Consumer Comission (ACCC), the "Tiny batteries, Big danger" campaign has a stark message for parents and carers. 

"Button batteries are lurking everywhere in your home," the campaign warns. "They might not look like much, but in the wrong hands and mouths they are child killers." 

"If swallowed, a button battery can become stuck in a child's throat and result in catastrophic injuries and even death." 

Alarmingly, one child a month in Australia is seriously injured after swallowing or inserting a button battery, with some of them sustaining lifelong injuries. 

The campaign includes a one-minute video, voiced by a young child, who describes the devastating impact if a battery is accidentally ingested. 

"Once swallowed they can get stuck, and the chemical reaction can burn little ones like me from the inside. Within two hours severe damage can be done.

"It can take countless operations to heal the wounds and months more to eat normally again. For others, its fatal."

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These flat, round batteries, which have diameters up to 32 millimetres, are found in a surprising number of common household items including kids' toys, remote controls, watches, birthday cards, thermometers and countless other products. 

"Button batteries can be incredibly dangerous, especially for children five years of age and under," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

"If swallowed, a button battery can get stuck in a child's throat and cause a chemical reaction that burns through tissue, causing death or serious injury."

"They are tiny, shiny and similar in size to some lollies, making them very attractive to young children," Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC is also concerned about reports wristbands containing two lithium button batteries were offered to the crowd of 30,000 at the Gabba during the AFL Grand Final on Saturday.

There are early reports the button batteries are not properly secured - and demonstrate the ease with which children can access these dangerous batteries. 

Photo: Wrist bands that were distributed at the AFL grand final over the weekend.

Photo: Wrist bands that were distributed at the AFL grand final over the weekend. Supplied / ACCC

There has been a growing incidence in the number of injuries and deaths from button batteries worldwide. A 2019 study published in Pediatrics found that battery ingestions had increased by 150 fold since 1995 - representing 86 per cent of foreign body ingestions.

In March this year US mum Ashley Mendez shared a harrowing account of the night her little boy, Adrian, swallowed a button battery to Faceboook. 

The 20-month-old sustained terrible injuries as the button eroded his esophagus tissue, leaving him with a hole in his throat, unable to eat or drink. 

The last time I held my 20 month old son, and saw his eyes open was at 9pm on 3/3 as he was taken from my arms screaming...

Posted by Ashley Mendez on  Thursday, 5 March 2020

"Most of us wouldn't think any harm could come from a tiny thing like a button battery but our world couldn't be rocked more because of the tiny thing," she said. "I never knew anything could happen quite like this." 

The ACCC decided to launch the campaign to help parents and other carers understand the dangers of these tiny batteries and create a safer home environment.

"Many parents, carers and grandparents are not aware of the number of products in their homes with button batteries, and they often may not be aware when their child has swallowed one,"  Ms Rickard said. 

"It is also very hard for health professionals to detect when a child has swallowed a battery as symptoms are similar to other conditions."

The campaign also includes a list of ways you can help protect your family.

"A house isnt safe until button batteries are out of reach of children," the campaign video concludes.

"Secure them, store them and dispose of them carefully. And tell grandparents and carers to do the same."

Tips for parents and carers

  • If you think a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for 24/7 fast, expert advice. You will be directed to an appropriate medical facility that can manage the injury. Prompt action is critical. Do not wait for symptoms to develop.
  • Symptoms may include gagging or choking, drooling, chest pain (grunting), coughing or noisy breathing, food refusal, black or red bowel motions, nose bleeds, spitting blood or blood-stained saliva, unexplained vomiting, fever, abdominal pain or general discomfort.
  • Children are often unable to effectively communicate that they have swallowed or inserted a button battery and may have no symptoms. If you suspect a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, you should ask for an x-ray from a hospital emergency department to make sure.
  • Keep new and used button batteries out of sight and out of reach of small children at all times – even old or spent button batteries can retain enough charge to cause life-threatening injuries.
  • If buying a toy, household device or novelty item, look for products that do not use button batteries at all, such as products powered by other types of batteries or rechargeable products that do not need button batteries to be replaced.
  • Examine products and make sure the compartment that houses the button battery is child-resistant, such as being secured with a screw. Check the product does not release the battery and it is difficult for a child to access. If the battery compartment does not close securely, stop using the product and keep it away from children.
  • Dispose of used button batteries immediately. As soon as you have finished using a button battery, put sticky tape around both sides of the battery and dispose of immediately in an outside bin, out of reach of children, or recycle safely.
  • Tell others about the risk associated with button batteries and how to keep their children safe.

Find out more on the ACCC website and share this information to help keep children safe.