The button battery experiment

The button battery experiment

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For most of us, science lessons at school are a distant memory. If you’re like me, you may not remember them as being overly interesting. There is one science experiment though that you can do at home today that is both staggering and terrifying - and is an absolute must for parents with small children.

Take a normal button cell battery – they can be found in items such as children’s toys, musical Christmas cards, remote controls and lots of other electronic items – and place it on a piece of raw pork.  Leave it for a couple of hours and then come back to it. The results will amaze you.

This is because lithium batteries react with saliva causing a build up of caustic soda which acts like acid eating through flesh, or in this case pork (which is very similar in texture to human flesh).

The danger here is around children swallowing these batteries. If you can’t do this experiment yourself, watch this video that shows what the effects are.

Most items that children swallow pass naturally through the body, unless the child needs an operation to remove it. But in the case of button cell batteries, as soon as one is swallowed, the clock starts ticking and with every minute passing, the child is being injured more and more as the battery burns through their internal organs.

At RoSPA, we hear of many stories where children have been seriously injured by swallowing button cell batteries. Cases are being reported with alarming frequency around the world. In February, two-year-old Logan Swift swallowed a battery that fell out of a remote control. He needed emergency surgery and spent three weeks in hospital.  He has since had various operations to repair his throat and keep it open. The poor child could not eat, speak or breathe without further operations.

The good news is that manufacturers have taken on board the risks associated with these products and in some cases have put warning labels on them.

We have also noted reports where children have swallowed multiple toy magnets.  Although these will pass safely through the body if swallowed individually, they will attract together within the stomach if multiple magnets are swallowed.  This causes serious medical problems and usually means surgery is required.

We have some general tips on the RoSPA website for ensuring that your children stay safe when it comes to batteries, but the key advice is:

  1. KEEP OUT OF REACH: Keep devices with button batteries out of reach if the battery compartments aren't secure and lock away any loose or spare batteries.
  2. TAKE THEM TO HOSPITAL: If a child swallows a button battery or gets one stuck in their nose or ear, take them straight to the nearest A&E department. Don’t be afraid to call an ambulance – it could save their life.  Dial 999, not 111.
  3. NIL BY MOUTH: Do not let them eat or drink anything and do not try to make them sick.
  4. GET HELP FAST: It is important to get to hospital as soon as possible and the sooner the battery can be removed, the less chance of permanent damage. Don’t “wait and see” – you don’t have the luxury of time being on your side – in fact, time is very much against you.
  5. SHARE THIS MESSAGE: RoSPA wants you to spread the word so people know what to do if the worst does happen. 

We all need batteries in our lives, and the law is very clear on toys needing button cell batteries to be inaccessible to children.

What we want at RoSPA is for parents to be more aware of how something so small can cause such terrible injuries to our little ones. If only we had that battery and pork experiment when we were at school...

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA's product safety consultant

Posted: 31/08/2016 10:45:36 0 comments


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