Sleuthing for a Danger in Toy Beads

From the NY Times:

Doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, outside Sydney, first believed that the 2-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, had an inherited metabolic disorder. But when Dr. Carpenter checked urine samples the next day for the chemical markers of the disorder, he found GHB, which can render victims unconscious and even cause death through respiratory failure.

“We suspected at that time the child had been surreptitiously given” the drug by a family member or friend of the family, he said by phone from Sydney on Wednesday.

A follow-up test two days later showed that the GHB had disappeared from the boy’s body, which confirmed that the chemical had been ingested and was not occurring because of a genetic disorder. It was then that Dr. Carpenter learned that the boy had vomited beads before and after going into a shallow coma.

Dr. Carpenter obtained more of the boy’s beads and tested them in a mass spectrometer, a device that helps identify chemical compounds. “I saw a large peak of a substance I didn’t recognize,” he said.

The “peak” was an obscure industrial chemical used to prevent water-soluble glues from becoming sticky before they are needed. But when ingested, the chemical quickly breaks down to become GHB. The United States tightly restricts the chemical’s sale and places GHB in the same category as heroin.

Dr. Carpenter bought a small quantity of the industrial chemical, a purchase that required considerable paperwork to assure the vendor that it would not be used illegally.

He contacted the toy’s worldwide distributor, Moose Enterprise of Australia, who referred him to the Hong Kong office of the manufacturer. The manufacturer provided a list of the beads’ ingredients. The list did not include the dangerous industrial chemical. Dr. Carpenter said the manufacturer was reluctant to provide details of how the beads were made.