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Toy Magnets Continue to Cause Severe Intestinal Injuries for Children: Report

Children continue to suffer severe intestinal injuries due to small, powerful magnets that are often sold as adult desk toys, despite years of attempts to regulate the products or ban them, according to a new report.

The medical journalism site STAT published a toy magnet safety report on August 6, warning about continuing reports of toy magnet-related injury reports requiring emergency medical intervention after young children swallow the rare earth magnets.

The report came from Dr. Amy Garcia, a pediatric gastroenterologist and associate professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Sanjay Krishnaswami, vice chair of surgical quality and operations at the hospital, and professor of surgery and pediatrics.

They report having observed at least four new cases involving children swallowing toy magnets just over the last month, which involved a total of 54 magnets that needed to be surgically removed from the young patients. Doctors also had to repair holes in the children’s’ intestines due to damage caused when the magnets attracted across intestinal walls.

The doctors are calling for toy magnets to be banned.

Over the last decade, powerful rare-earth magnets, sold under brand names like Buckyballs and Zen Magnets, have become increasingly popular. The toys are comprised of dozens, if not hundreds of tiny high-power magnets that come in the shape of a ball or a cube.

Unlike standard refrigerator magnets, these magnets have upwards of 37 times the strength of a normal magnet, significantly increasing the risk of injury to children if two or more are ingested.

Shortly after they were introduced, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) received hundreds of toy magnet ingestion injuries resulting in bowel and intestine perforations requiring surgical removal. To date, the agency has become aware of one fatality involving a 19-month old girl who ingested several powerful magnets.

According to the CPSC, between 2009 and 2013 nearly 3,000 children and teenagers were treated in emergency rooms nationwide after swallowing the magnets, prompting officials to take action to remove the potentially fatal high-powered magnets off of the market.

By late 2013, officials had exhausted efforts to place stronger warning labels on the products and launch educational campaigns for consumers to warn of the dangers associated with the high-strength magnetic toys. However, reports of injuries continued, leading safety regulators to conclude that placing stronger warnings on the products can not make them safe.

In 2014 CPSC officials deemed toy magnets and games made from rare-earth elements a safety risk and banned them from the market. During the two year period the ban took place, magnet ingestion reports and injuries decreased by nearly 80 percent.

However, a 2016 decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the order under the condition that manufacturers include more detailed warning labels, putting the dangerously powerful toy magnets back on the market and potentially in the hands of children, who may be prone to swallow them.

Since the ban was vacated, STAT reports cases of magnet injuries are continuing to surface at alarming rates once again, as more of the products become available to consumers.

Many of the manufacturers have had magnetic toy lawsuits file against them, claiming they failed to follow federal regulator market withdrawal requests, resulting in injuries to consumers.

This latest report claims rare-earth magnet toys are inherently dangerous and can be extremely difficult to child-proof given the quantity of pieces per toy. Along with many other consumer safety advocates, STAT called for the CPSC to try to put the ban back in place.

A report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, highlights the dangers associated with these high-powered magnetic balls and offers the following safety tips:

  • Keep all small magnets and tiny cubes away from anyone younger than 14.
  • Regularly check toys and play areas, including carpeting, for dislodged or lost magnets.
  • Warn teens to avoid placing the tiny magnetic balls near their faces, such as to mimic piercings.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you think a child has swallowed a magnet (and don’t assume it will pass normally). Symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, all of which could be mistaken for other illnesses.

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