As warm seasonal temperatures begin spreading throughout the country, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is urging Americans to stay away from water walking balls, a new recreational danger that poses a number of serious health and safety hazards.
Water walking balls are giant inflatable vinyl balls that people of all ages enter through a zippered opening. The ball is inflated though the zippered access and then zipped shut with the person inside. Once the ball is sealed, the person inside then can roll around on the surface of the water, or on other surfaces such as ice and grass. According to the CPSC, water walking balls are most commonly enjoyed by children and they are often offered as rides in amusement parks, carnivals, malls, sporting events, and other recreational venues. They are also sold to the public for private use.
Because these transparent balls have no emergency exit and can only be opened by a person on the outside, the person inside the ball is at high risk of injury and death, especially if they experience any kind of distress. Pre-existing conditions, such as heart and lung problems, respiratory conditions, and claustrophobia can be exacerbated during use.
Water walking balls pose a combination of other serious hazards, including the potential for suffocation, drowning, and impact injuries. Because the balls are sealed and airtight, the longer the person remains inside, the less oxygen and more carbon dioxide he or she inhales. The water walking balls also have no padding, making impact injuries highly possible from colliding with another ball or fixed object or rolling off an elevated surface onto hard cement, ice, rocks, etc. Leaks or punctures can allow water inside and entrap the person, causing injury or drowning.
On the website of one water-walking-ball park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the park operator says that riders can remain inside for 5 minutes on hot sunny days “and as long as you want if no sun or at night (just change the air every 5 minutes).”
According to the CPSC, several states have banned or refused to provide permits for rides that use this product, but they are legal and widely used in other states. The agency says it is aware of two injuries involving water walking balls. In one incident, a child was found unresponsive after being inside the ball for a very brief period of time and emergency medical treatment was sought. In the other incident, a person inside of a ball suffered a fracture when the ball fell out of the shallow, above-ground pool onto the hard ground.
The CPSC has informed state amusement ride officials of these dangers and encourages state officials not to permit this ride in their state. CPSC says that it “does not know of any safe way to use this product.”
Water walking balls are manufactured under several brand and ride names.