Injuries caused by high-powered toy magnets continue to result in an alarming number of visits to emergency rooms throughout the country, after children accidentally ingest the magnets. However, many of these problems could be prevented if industry regulations were re-implemented, according to a new study.
Rare earth neodymium magnets began to appear in a number of desk toys in about 2009, featuring sets of the small high-powered magnets that can be easily formed into various shapes. However, introduction of products like Zen Magnets, Bucky Balls and other similar toys also resulted in a rise of serious injuries among children who put two or more of the magnets in their mouth, and accidentally swallowed them.
In many cases, the magnets were placed in a child’s mouth to replicate tongue piercings or attract the magnets through the cheeks. However, magnet ingestion injuries have resulted in severe problems for many children who accidentally swallowed the small pieces, as the magnets may attract to each other across intestinal walls, often resulting in the need for emergency surgery.
After it was determined that label warnings were insufficient to prevent the problems, the CPSC introduced rules prohibiting the sale of the high-powered magnets in toy sets in 2014. However, the rule was challenged and ultimately reversed in 2016, leading to a resurgence of the magnets in various toys on the market.
In a report published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers indicate that the removal of the Safety Standard for Magnet Sets rule was associated with an increased rate of emergency department visits for magnet ingestions among children aged 17 years or younger.
The study evaluated data from the national Electronic Injury Surveillance System, including a national sample of U.S. injury-related ER visits from 2009 to 2019.
During that time, more than 36,000 emergency room visits were identified for magnet injuries among children. The researchers focused on three trends, including problems from 2009 to 2012, before CPSC involvement, during the period a CPSC federal ban was in place from 2013 to 2016, and 2017 to 2019, after the CPSC rule was reversed.
ER visits consistently increased over the three periods researched, but from 2013 to 2016 after the CPSC magnet ban, ER visits decreased from 3.5 per 100,000 children to 2.8 per 100,000 children.
Once the ban was reversed in 2016, ER visits during 2016 to 2019 increased to 5.1 per 100,000 children.
The research highlights an overall upward trend of increased ER visits for magnet injuries. The data indicates that problems decreased after the CPSC rule was implemented, and injuries increased significantly following the reversal of the CPSC ban, with children under 5 had the highest rates of ingestion injury ER visits.
High-powered, rare-earth magnets pose a serious risk to children. The magnets are small, 3 mm to 6 mm in size. The neodymium magnets are 5 to 10 times more powerful than traditional ferrite magnets, and can be found in building sets, jewelry kids, spinning toys and other products.
Ingesting multiple magnets may result in a severe bowel obstruction, as the magnets are powerful and can pull through tissue to attach to each other inside the body. This may result in life-threatening emergencies, and may prove fatal in some cases.