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Silent Nursery: Button Battery Fatalities in Children—the Long Road from Externality to Obsolescence

Date: August 1,2022 |Hits: 1785 Download PDF How to cite this paper

John Paull

University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

*Corresponding author: John Paull


Button batteries are a lucrative product for manufacturers, but for toddlers they are a death pill. The designs for button batteries are now decades old, the research investment and tooling for production have long ago been amortised. Child deaths are an economic externality for manufacturers, i.e., a child death or injury attracts no cost imposition for manufacturers. Child button battery fatalities are a classic market failure, of a technology where the profits are privatised and the harms are socialised. The design problem of these batteries is that they are liable to be swallowed by toddlers, to lodge in their oesophagus, to burn through tissue, and to thereby cause death (unless they are promptly removed within hours of ingestion). The issues have been known for decades, yet the design issues have not been resolved, and toddlers continue to be collateral damage and unaccounted economic externalities. In the US there have been 44 child deaths from lithium button batteries in the past two decades (2002-2021). Known child deaths in USA average 2.2 per year (with a low of 0, to a high of 6). Of these lithium button battery deaths, where the diameter was recorded (n=43), all were 20 mm diameter batteries. The thickness of the fatal batteries varied: 1.6 mm (n=1); 2.5 mm (n=6); 3.2 mm (n=18); with the rest of unknown thickness (n=19). Death by button battery is not notifiable so these figures will be underestimates of the harm. The issues are (1) 20 mm lithium button batteries are ubiquitous (most car remotes use such batteries, e.g. CR2032); (2) these batteries are readily available to consumers, and remote key fobs (and other consumer items) are designed for the consumer to replace spent batteries; (3) there is low awareness that button batteries are dangerous goods that will kill if ingested, and as a consequence loose and/or spent batteries may be left unsecured and unattended; (4) button batteries are shiny and attractive to toddlers and pre-schoolers who are known to be indiscriminate in what they ingest; (5) an ingested button battery of 20 mm can lodge in the oesophagus of a young child (smaller batteries can more readily pass through a young alimentary canal); (6) the design of lithium button batteries can result in an ingested battery corroding a fistula (a tunnel) in the oesophagus wall through to the trachea or aorta, either of which is fatal; (7) the symptoms of button battery ingestion lack specificity and may be misdiagnosed as benign (with fatal consequences). While manufacturers and regulators continue to treat button battery deaths as externalities and as collateral damage the deaths can be expected to continue. Twelve recommendations to save child lives from death by button battery are presented.


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How to cite this paper

Silent Nursery: Button Battery Fatalities in Children—the Long Road from Externality to Obsolescence

How to cite this paper: John Paull. (2022) Silent Nursery: Button Battery Fatalities in Children—the Long Road from Externality to Obsolescence. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine Research6(3), 301-308.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.26855/ijcemr.2022.07.011

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