Magnetic Toy Injury Risks May Lead to New Safety Rules

Following a large number of serious and potentially life-threatening injuries associated with popular magnetic toys, federal safety regulators are considering new rules designed to reduce the risk of the high-powered magnets being accidentally swallowed, where they may attract across intestinal walls.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has previously forced a number of recalls for rare earth magnet sets, which involve many small pieces that can be put together into various shapes.

Amid continuing concerns about the safety of the magnetic toys, the U.S. CPSC held a meeting this week to discuss new regulations, potentially extending the agency’s previous regulation of magnets sold to children, by requiring that even magnetic sets intended for adults be too larg to fit down an individual’s throat or too weak to be of any danger.

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A vote on the new regulations is expected to take place in the next few weeks. It comes after continuing reports of problems where the magnetic pieces are accidentally swallowed by children or adults attempting to simulate tongue or cheek piercings.

Magnetic Ball Risks

According to the CPSC’s magnet information center website, an increasing number of incidents have been reported to CPSC regarding children swallowing the toy magnets and suffering serious injuries.

Nearly 3,000 children and teenagers swallowed the magnets and had to be treated in emergency rooms nationwide between 2009 and 2013, the CPSC reports.

If more than one of the powerful magnets are swallowed, they may attract to each other while moving through the intestines. This may cause intestines to twist, create blockages or tear intestinal walls. Often this results in the need for emergency surgery and can result in death or severe life-long health problems.

Initial symptoms associated with swallowing the small magnets may be similar to that of a common flu, consisting of vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain, causing the problems not to be promptly recognized until certain medical examinations are done, further delaying treatment and allowing the magnets to attract.

Magnet Recall Battle

An estimated 3 million magnet sets have been sold in the U.S. since 2010. Despite the regulatory efforts to place strong warning labels on the products and launch an educational campaign for consumers, reports of injuries have continued, leading safety regulators to conclude that warnings are insufficient to make the products safe and that a ban on the sale of such products is warranted.

The CPSC requested that 13 manufacturers of the magnetic ball toys issue voluntary recalls and stop sales in 2012.  While 11 companies complied, the regulatory agency was forced to file rare administrative complaints against two manufacturers, seeking to force an involuntary Buckyball recall and Zen Magnets recall.

The administrative complaints are a way for the CPSC to make a mandatory recall of a dangerous product, and this was the first time in 11 years the regulatory agency has had to take such action in an effort to protect consumers.

In April 2013, the CPSC and a number of major retailers announced a Buckyball and Buckycube recall, calling for customers to return or get rid of the magnet sets.

In  July, the CPSC reached a settlement agreement with makers of the Buckyball magnet sets which allows consumers who purchased the sets to receive a refund by visiting Buckyballsrecall.com.

The makers of Zen magnets are still fighting to prevent having to offer customers refunds.

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