Childrens Health

9 Years After Australia’s First Child Died from Button Battery Ingestion, the Laws are Finally set to Change

In Australia, around 20 children a week present to an emergency department with a button battery-related injury. That’s 1000 children a year. Most of those children are lucky and are able to be saved.

Some are not. 

Nine years ago, in 2013 on the Sunshine Coast, four-year-old Summer Steer swallowed a button battery. She could not be saved. She was the first child to die in Australia from swallowing a button battery.

Two years later, in 2015, Melbourne’s Isabella Rees, aged 14 months, also died from swallowing one of the batteries.

Again, in 2020, three-year-old Brittney Conway from Queensland swallowed a button battery. Doctors thought it was a virus. She died an estimated three weeks after swallowing the battery. 

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Photos of Isabella and Summer, held by their mothers.
button battery danger Brittney Conway
Brittney was the third child in Australia to die from button battery ingestion.

For years and years, there have been campaigns outlining just how dangerous button batteries are, especially as they are so easily accessible by children.

Finally, this week, on 22 June, the button battery laws will change. 

The new button battery changes

Under the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) new standards:

  • It will be mandatory for all consumer goods that contain button batteries to have secure compartments that limit a child’s ability to access them.
  • Suppliers of the button batteries themselves must use packaging that is similarly “child-resistant”, and all button-battery products must have safety warnings
  • These standards will be enforced through mandatory compliance testing, and breaches will be penalised under Australian consumer law, which could result in a fine of up to $10 million.

‘Like giving a child a loaded gun’

Summer’s mum, Andrea Shoesmith has been campaigning for button battery change since she lost her daughter.

As she tells media outlets, 

I just don’t think people understand how dangerous [button batteries] are … it’s like giving a child a loaded gun. 

They’re small, they’re shiny, kids look at them like they’re lollies, and unless you see them swallow it, it’s too late.”

Three children have died from button batteries in Australia but the numbers in other countries are much higher. Poison Control reports 69 deaths due to button battery ingestion, including the death of Hugh McMahon, aged one, on Christmas Eve last year. 

button battery Hughie
Hugh was just one when he swallowed a button battery, found in a monkey toy. Source: Instagram

Remain button battery aware 

While the new laws will hopefully prevent children from easily accessing button batteries, it is important to note that button batteries are still sold and also placed front and centre in shops. 

More than 100 products have been pulled from the shelves of major retailers in preparation for the change this week. 

However, there are no laws around disposing of button batteries, something Andrea Shoesmith would especially like to see changed. The source of the button battery her daughter, Summer, swallowed was never found, indicating she may have picked it up from a park. 

Ms Rees added: 

Batteries are lining the counters at shopping centres and supermarkets, next to lollies and food, and it sends the wrong message from a young age. 

They need to be kept up high and out of reach of children, behind doors or cupboards, so that it conditions us to think of them as dangerous.”

Keeping button batteries AWAY from children

The Battery Stewardship Council (BSC) estimates there are currently 67 million button batteries in Australian households. 

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Another victim of button battery ingestion was Harper-Lee of the UK. Harper-Lee was two when she swallowed the button battery in 2021. Source: Stoke Sentinel

The new laws mean that over 100 products on the shelves will be removed, hopefully preventing button battery ingestion from happening. However, we also need to be incredibly diligent when it comes to button battery safety. 

Where to find them: 

  • Button batteries can be found in many common household items such as toys, watches, remote controls, and digital thermometers.
  • We suggest looking for items that do not need button batteries. However, if you do have a stash of button batteries at home, make sure you keep them out of sight and reach of children.
  • All button battery packaging will now be child-resistant. If you are using button batteries, make sure you also examine the product to ensure the compartment is child-resistant. 

Disposing of button batteries 

  • As soon as you have finished using a button battery, put sticky tape around both sides of the battery and dispose of it in the bin or in a battery-drop-off point, located at retailers such as Aldi, Woolworths, Coles, Bunnings, and Officeworks.

Symptoms of button battery ingestion

  • Symptoms may include gagging or choking, drooling, chest pain (grunting), coughing or noisy breathing, food refusal, black or red bowel motions, nose bleeds, spitting blood or blood-stained saliva, any unexplained vomiting, fever, abdominal pain or general discomfort.
  • Children are often unable to effectively communicate that they have swallowed or inserted a button battery and may have no symptoms initially.
  • If you suspect a child has swallowed or inserted a button battery, you should ask for an X-Ray from a hospital emergency department to make sure.

What if your child ingests a button battery

  • If they are having trouble breathing, call 000 immediately.
  • If they are not having trouble breathing parents should call the Poisons Information Centre immediately on 13 11 26. You will be directed by staff to an emergency department that is best able to treat your child.

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