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Button battery dangers prompt calls for new safety measures.

By consumer affairs reporter Amy Bainbridge.

Tough new safety regulations are needed to protect children from potentially lethal button batteries, consumer advocates say.

The small round batteries, used to power everything from toys to bathroom scales, are easy to swallow and have contributed to the deaths of two Australian children.

They also cause about 20 presentations to emergency departments each week.

The consumer group Choice has teamed up with Kidsafe Queensland and The Parenthood to call on the Federal Government to introduce stricter safety standards for all products containing button batteries.

“What we need to see is all products that carry button batteries have a screwed compartment so the battery can’t come out,” Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said.

“We’d also like to see the button batteries sold in child-proof packaging.

“In Australia at the moment button batteries aren’t required to be sold in child-proof packaging.

“…You’ll find that these button batteries are very easily accessible by little kids.”

Mr Godfrey said new figures show the production of the lithium batteries in China alone will triple by 2020.

Emergency paediatrician Ruth Barker is the director of the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit.

Dr Barker told the ABC it only took two seconds for a child to pick up a battery and swallow it.

“If the battery gets stuck, it breaks down water in the body to produce a chemical that causes severe internal burns,” she said.

“The symptoms are very non-specific, sometimes it can be a partial refusal of food, drooling a bit more than usual and a fever.

“If you must have a product that operates on a disc battery, make sure the product is of sufficient quality and durability, so it can withstand being dropped without the compartment popping open.”

Danger of batteries must not be ‘underestimated’: mother

Sydney mother Francesca Lever’s nine-month-old son Leo swallowed a button battery in April 2014, and wound up having emergency surgery and staying in intensive care for two weeks.

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Leo had swallowed a battery the size of a coin and it was stuck in his oesophagus.

“He had a rattling noise coming from his breathing, and for a couple of days he didn’t want to eat and then after he picked up after a couple of days he was trying to eat but he kept gagging and vomiting,” Franscesca Lever told the ABC.

“We finally had a chest X-Ray after our third trip to the emergency room. We were rushed straight into theatre.”

Two years on, Leo has made a full recovery. Ms Lever said she fully supports the campaign.

“I think the beauty of this campaign is promoting the awareness for everybody, not just for parents but for grandparents, anyone who’s coming into contact with children, that they are dangerous and the danger and toxicity must not ever be underestimated,” she said.

The campaign also has the support of Melbourne mum Allison Rees, whose 14-month old daughter Isabella died after swallowing a button battery last year.

“I would like every single household item that contains batteries to be secured by a screw that isn’t able to be easily accessed by a child, in particular things like TV remote controls,” she told the ABC.

“We set up a Facebook page 12 months ago just trying to educate mums and dads, grandparents, everyone out there, on the dangers of button batteries.”

Last year, a Queensland coroner recommended manufacturers of button-sized batteries make them safe if swallowed.

The coroner made the recommendation in his findings into the death of four-year-old Sunshine Coast girl Summer Steer, who became the first child to die in Australia from swallowing a button battery.

Also among the 13 recommendations were that manufacturers develop safer batteries and more secure packaging with adequate health warnings.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission asked the industry in 2013 to put warning signs on products and child-proof packaging for button batteries.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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