Health Canada Forces Recall for Magnet Sets Due to Ingestion Risks

Safety officials in Canada are also working to remove magnet ball sets from the market, due to serious safety concerns posed by the small, high-powered magnets, which may attract across the intestinal walls if they are accidentally swallowed.

Canada’s Harper government announced its first ever mandatory recall on June 21, after the manufacturer NeoMagnetic Gadgets Inc. failed to follow an order to remove their magnetic sets from the market place.

In April, the Minister of Health in Canada announced that the government would be taking actions to force recalls for magnet sets due to safety concerns, joining efforts begun last year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in response to a rising number of magnet injuries among children and teenagers.

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The sets consist of a large number of small rare earth magnets shaped like BBs or small marbles, which can be formed into various designs that hold in place. While the products are usually marketed as adult desk toys, many teens and young children have suffered devastating internal injuries after intentionally or accidentally swallowing more than one of the magentic balls, often after placing them in their mouth to stimulate a pierced tongue or to attract the magnets across their cheek.

In November 2012, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition issued a report (PDF) highlighting problems with the magnet sets, indicating that warning labels are not enough to prevent children from placing them in their mouths or from swallowing them.

If more than one magnet is swallowed, they often 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 for the child.

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.

Health Canada issued a statement on May 22, identifiying a number of novelty magnet sets sold in the country that may pose a risk, including products marketed under brand names like BuckyBalls, Nanodots, Magnicubes, Neoballs, NeoMagnetic Cubes, SuperMagnetMan and Zen Magnets.

In a rare move, the Canadian safety agency had to issue a mandatory recall to force NeoMagnetic products from the market. Approximately 4,000 of the products were sold from February 2010 through June 2013 in a variety of colors and forms.

In the United States, the U.S. CPSC was forced to file rare administrative complaints against a number of manufacturers in July 2012, seeking to force the recall of BuckyBalls and Zen Magnets.

An estimated 3 million of the 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 continuing injuries led the safety regulators to determine that the manufacture and sale of the powerful toy magnets should be banned.

Consumers have been urged to immediately stop using any magnet ball sets and to make certain that they are kept out of reach of children. In addition, safety officials indicate that consumers should teach children of all ages about the risks posed by magnets or items containing magnets, urging them to never place any in their mouth or nose and to seek immediate medical attention for any child who is suspected of swallowing one or more magnets.

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