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Finally Buckyballs Magnets Get Their Just Desserts

By Nasima Hossain
Public Health Advocate

The Consumer Product Safety Commission filed suit last Wednesday to stop the company that distributes the popular Buckyballs magnets from selling the product. This is a product that consumer advocates have been concerned about for years. Just check out my blogs and the U.S. PIRG tips for toy safety.

In its lawsuit, the CPSC is saying the warnings alone are not effective. Once the magnets are removed from their carrying cases or packets and shared among children, the warnings are completely forgotten. A lot of children who are sharing the magnets at school may not know there are warnings on how to use them!

The CPSC was finally compelled to file the lawsuit, because Maxfield & Oberton, the company that manufacturers Buckyballs refused to voluntarily recall the powerful magnets. They know about the dangers these magnets pose to children, but still keep selling them by cleverly marketing them as a desk toys for adults.

There is no doubt that these magnets are dangerous. When two or more of the magnets are swallowed, they can attach to each other, ripping holes in the stomach and intestines or causing other serious injuries, blood poisoning and death. There have been more than two dozen magnet ingestion cases since 2009.  At least a dozen of them involved Buckyballs, and some required surgery, including a 4-year-old boy who ingested three Buckyballs that he thought were chocolate candy. Maria Oliva-Hemker, chief of the pediatric gastroenterology division at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, said some children have lost substantial parts of their small bowel by swallowing Buckyballs-type magnets. “We know of cases where you can have an entire string of these magnets hooking together in the intestines,” she said.

Also just this January, a fifth grader in Virginia pretending to have a tongue piercing something many middle school children use these magnets for, accidentally swallowed 2 of them. This resulted in five days at Inova Fairfax Hospital, at least 10 X-rays, three CT scans and an endoscopy. Finally, a surgeon used a metal instrument to manipulate the magnets into her appendix, avoiding major surgery. He then removed her appendix, and the magnets.

However rather than thinking about children’s safety, before profit, Maxfield & Oberton the company that sells these magnets shot back with a statement, “Thank you for trying to drive a $50 million New York-based consumer product company out of business.”  And in a full page advertisement in the Washington Post, the company says, “And now the CPSC has sued us, alleging our products are defective, because sadly a handful of children out of the millions of units sold have found and misused them.” As Public Health Advocate for our littlest consumers and a parent of a middle schooler, I have to ask should a product that entails removing a handful of children’s small bowels be on the market?

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