Powerful Toy Magnets Continue to Put Children At Risk: Study

A group of pediatricians indicate that children continue to face a serious risk of injury from powerful toy magnet sets, even as federal safety regulators look for ways to get the products off the market.  

In a study presented earlier this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, a group of Canadian researchers say powerful neodymium-iron-boron toy magnets are causing an increase in pediatric ingestion-related injuries.

Researchers looked at data on foreign body ingestions involving children who were treated at The Hospital for Sick Children from April 1, 2001 through December 21, 2012, identifying significant increases in single and multiple magnet ingestion in recent years, with the first reports occurring in 2004.

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The hospital reported 94 magnet injuries out of 2,700 ingestion incidents since 2001, with the multiple magnet ingestions increasing the most over the last three years of the study, coinciding with the recent increase in popularity of toy magnet sets, which feature hundreds of tiny magnets that can be formed into various shapes and sizes.

The study appears to confirm fears by federal regulators and other health experts about the risk of toy magnets for children. When more than one of the small magnets are accidentally swallowed, they may attract to each other across intestinal walls, causing blockages and potentially life-threatening injuries that often require surgical removal.

According to the findings of this latest study, the mean age of children who had ingested magnets was 4.5 years old. Out of the 94 cases reported, six children had to have the magnets surgically removed, and 10 children had to have them removed endoscopically. There were no deaths reported.

“The ingestion of these dangerous toys has been increasing, and spiking over the past three years,” said Dr. Daniel Rosenfield, a co-author of the study. “What we’re seeing is really an epidemic driven by a new technology. These new magnets are vastly more powerful, smaller in size and seem innocuous. Parents just aren’t aware of the potential danger.”

The findings came just days after a hearing held by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to review toy magnet safety standards. During the hearing a number of experts including pediatricians and consumer safety groups called for the powerful magnets, often known as rare earth magnets, to be banned from the U.S. market.

Rare Earth Magnet Concerns

The public hearing came after years of the CPSC battling to get better label warnings on the toy magnet sets, and, when that appeared to fail at preventing injuries, fighting to have them removed from the market entirely.

The 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.

Magnet toy sets have been linked with a number of serious and potentially life threatening injuries for children and young adults in recent years. Reports suggest that infants and toddlers may face the greatest risk of accidentally swallowing the magnets, but a number of reports involve teens and others who were attempting to simulate tongue or cheek piercings when the magnets were ingested.

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.

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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