China's government suspended the export of toys covered with a toxic chemical that have been subject to recalls from Australia to the US after sickening children, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The government's quality control administration issued the export ban, sealed the toys at the sites where they were produced and ordered an investigation, Xinhua said in a brief report late on Friday.
Millions of units of the popular toys, which are sold as Aqua Dots in the US and Bindeez in Australia, were recalled in those countries as well as in Britain, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere last week after children began falling sick from swallowing the toy's bead-like parts.
Tests showed the beads were coated with the industrial chemical 1,4-butanediol. When ingested, the chemical metabolizes into the "date-rape" drug gamma hydroxy butyrate, and may cause breathing problems, loss of consciousness, seizure, drowsiness, coma and death. At least nine children in the US and three in Australia have taken sick.
For China, the recall is the latest in a slew of product quality scandals that has tarnished the image of the country as an exporter of reliable goods. The government has tried to shore up China's reputation by increasing inspections, selectively punishing companies and launching a publicity campaign to boost quality.
Few details were available about the latest export suspension and how the popular toy became coated with a toxic chemical. The maker of the toys, Australia-based Moose Enterprises, has said the product was manufactured in China. But neither the company nor the Chinese government have identified the factory or factories where the toys were produced.
Reached by telephone yesterday, a duty officer at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, which issued the ban, said officials were not available to comment.
In its report, Xinhua said inspectors "sealed the bead toys at the producer" whose name was not released.
Companies worldwide have increasingly outsourced manufacturing, often choosing Chinese factories for their cost and quality. But heated competition among factories and the rising cost of labor, land and fuel have sometimes put pressure on profits, causing some firms to cut corners.