Beverage can manufacturers invented the stay-tab in the 1970s after studies alerted the industry to litter problems and serious safety issues. The removable pull-tabs were often dropped into cans exposing people to the danger of swallowing the metal accidently, and suffering an internal injury.
Stay-tabs were designed to prevent this happening, but Lane Donnelly, radiologist-in-chief and director of biodiagnostics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, claims the new tabs are potentially unsafe.
At the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Donnelly presented evidence that she said indicates that stay-tabs may not have even reduced the number of ingestions.
Donnelly identified 19 cases of inadvertent stay-tab ingestion at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center over a 16-year period from 1993 to 2009. She said this figure suggests that swallowing tabs is not an uncommon problem, and worryingly, the tabs are also difficult to spot on x-rays. Only four (21 per cent) of the 19 ingested stay-tabs were visible on x-rays, potentially complicating attempts to remove tabs.
Most cases of ingestion are resolved without surgery but they are nonetheless a cause of concern. What was also considered worrying about the cases recorded in Cincinnati was the age of those affected.
The mean age of the children who had swallowed the tabs was 8.5, only 4 of the children were younger than age 5, and most of the cases were teenagers.
“It is unusual that the majority cases occurred among teenagers, since foreign body ingestion typically occurs in infants and toddlers,” said Donnelly.
She therefore concluded that tabs may still pose a potential danger to children and adolescents, and that people may be just as likely to swallow a stay-tab as they are a pull-tab.
“The identification of 19 ingested stay-tabs at a single children's hospital suggests that such occurrences are not uncommon,” said Donnelly. “Our findings raise the possibility that the redesign of beverage cans may not have reduced the number of ingestions.”