There is a useful product in your home that can be very, very dangerous to children, and some adults, if it is ingested or inserted into an eye, nose or ear. Indeed, you may have dozens of this product in your home — in use, in storage or sitting in the grocery bag you just placed on the floor in your kitchen, waiting to be emptied. It is a coin cell battery. Even though this safety hazard has appeared from time to time on TV or YouTube or in a parent’s magazine, it has been hard to get the word out. I’m asking you to help ensure that everyone learns about the hazard and protects their families.
If you have small children, or adults in your home that need supervision, such as people with autism or dementia, or if they just visit, you need to take steps now to protect them from injuries related to coin cell batteries. Got grandchildren? This post is for you, too. Here’s an example of the product on the store shelf (although they are sold in various sizes and power) and what they look like after they have been ingested:
Some smaller, and seemingly innocuous, the coin cell batteries supply power and are usually tucked away in countless electronic products, such as mini remote controls, hearing aids, calculators, watches, car key fobs, bathroom scales, flameless candles and singing greeting cards.
In the U.S., it is like an epidemic. 40,000 cases of children ingesting small batteries were documented between 1997 and 2010. 14 of these resulted in death. The number of cases resulting in serious injury or death has more than quadrupled in the past five years and will continue to increase at an alarming rate as more electronics integrate coin cell batteries into their design.
When these coin cell batteries (sometimes referred to as button cell batteries) are swallowed, the resulting injuries can be severe enough to cause lifelong injuries or death. These are not just little metal coins that may be pooped out like a shiny new dime. They can and do get stuck. They are electrical and remain so even when they are ready to be replaced in your remote control. A life threatening process starts the moment the battery cell interacts with saliva or other mucous membranes. An electrical current forms around the outside of the battery, generating an alkaline hydroxide that eats through mucous membranes — FAST.
On average, through 2010, one battery-related emergency room visit occurred every 2.66 hours in the U.S. Unfortunately, symptoms of a coin-sized button battery ingestion are not unique and may be similar to other childhood illnesses, such as coughing, drooling and discomfort. This only complicates the matter, leading to greater injuries. A single 3V lithium battery can cause severe esophageal burns within 2 hours and eat a hole completely through the throat within 4 hours. So, real and permanent damage may result before the parent or caregiver has even decided to go to the emergency room.
Energizer and Safe Kids USA established a safety partnership to address this growing child safety hazard – though we need to note that injuries also are sustained by adults. They launched an effort called The Battery Controlled, committed to raising awareness of this issue and sharing information with parents to help prevent injuries. They place the burden on you to prevent this product from injuring your family. This includes:
KEEP OUT OF REACH – PREVENTION
According to studies[i], the major sources of ingested batteries for children under 6 years of age are:
- Directly from the product 61.8%
- Loose or sitting out 29.8%
- Battery packaging 8.2%
- Hearing aid containing battery 0.2%
Yes, children under six, even under 2 years of age, are clearly able to open your electronic products and remove the battery.
Based on my discussions with subject matter experts at the recent Annual Meeting and Training Symposium of ICPHSO (International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization), ingestion is only one of the ways that these coin cell batteries do harm. They are also inserted in ears, nose and eye cavities. Additionally, a significant number of adults, especially the elderly, are treated for ingestion or insertion injuries. Adults may be cognitively disabled, yet other possibilities also include scenarios in which the elderly are changing the batteries in their hearing aids – placing the new one in their mouth while removing the old (or vice versa) and then unintentionally swallowing the battery cell for any one of several reasons, such as sneezing, forgetting about the battery, etc.
Adults may be able to get treatment very fast, if they are aware of the hazard associated with batteries and seek medical treatment immediately. Yet, they need to be informed of the hazard too, as it may be counter-intuitive to know that such a small, round, old (seemingly discharged) metal hearing aid battery can do material physical harm.
Obviously, children and cognitively disabled adults are at far greater risk. Even if they are old enough to communicate, they may not inform a parent or caregiver of the ingestion, nor tie together the symptoms they later experience with the ingestion.
Be safer. Place all your electronic products that utilize these batteries in a place that is not accessible to your children. Note that these coin cell batteries are also in many car keys. When you buy the batteries for storage, do not leave them out on a table until you can put them away. Store them safely immediately. Do not use your car keys as a plaything and keep them away from children.
GET HELP FAST
Time is of the essence in getting treatment. Really.
In an in-vitro study conducted by Intertek Group plc,[ii] utilizing laboratory samples of porcine (pig) esophagi (which are similar in nature to the human esophagus), serious burns were evident within two hours of placement of a button cell battery on the laboratory tissue, and an actual perforation through the tissue is burned within 4 hours.
There is little time to act. If you think your child swallowed a battery, don’t stop to think “maybe she’ll be O.K., it’s small, and she’ll poop it out.” You don’t have the time to consider that. Get the child to the emergency room and let them confirm whether or not the button cell battery is there and how to treat her. Do not let the child eat or drink until an x-ray can determine is a battery is present. Do not induce vomiting.
The Battery Controlled posted Emmett’s Story. Frankly, it’s hard to watch, even if Emmett and his family are bravely and positively moving on and dealing with his lifelong medical problems arising from his ingestion of a battery. Energizer and Emmett’s family want you to learn from Emmett’s experience to avoid this from happening in your home.
TELL THE STORY
By 2013, based on statistics through 2010, there have likely been approximately 100,000 children injured by ingesting or inserting coin cell batteries. The irony is that these batteries have not been recalled when other products are taken off the market for injuring only a few children. Clearly, the utility, pervasiveness and market strength of a product may shelter it from recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Meanwhile, the battery manufacturers and others are looking for solutions that will become the new standard(s) for the battery safety of the future.
So, right now, no one else is protecting your children but you. YOU are the “safety device” associated with coin cell batteries. The more knowledgeable people are about the risks associated with coin cell batteries, the fewer children and adults will be injured, more lives will be saved.
Please share this information with your friend and family. Share the information at The Battery Controlled. Share it in e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. Share it in Spanish.
If you think this is posting is too dramatic, or couldn’t happen in your home, please remember: 40,000 emergency room visits through 2010 and the number of electronic products utilizing the coin cell battery is increasing exponentially.
Finally, if you are a manufacturer, distributor, importer, or retailer of electronic products, this report may help you to avoid serious liability. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
My thanks to The Battery Controlled, and all their partners in safety, for the images taken from their website and added to this blog.
[i] Based on a study of 3989 batteries with known source ingested by children between 7/1/90 and 9/30/08 and reported to National Battery Ingestion Hotline.T. Litovitz, N. Whitaker, and L. Clark, “Preventing Battery Ingestions: An Analysis of 8648 Cases, Pediatrics 125(6), pp. 1178-1183, 2010 and T. Litovitz, The Button Battery Ingestion Hazard, presentation to CPSC http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/81209/litovitz03172011.pdf
[ii] Intertek Group plc advises that no animals were killed to conduct this testing. The porcine esophagi were obtained from meat-packers.