Magnets posing as a serious health hazard to children keep appearing in the news. Very recently an article on January 27 in the Washington Post highlighted the growing popularity of small, ball-bearing magnets being used by middle school students as pretend mouth piercings, posing a serious health hazard.  These small ball magnets are 5mm in size and extremely strong. A fifth grader pretending to have a tongue piercing accidentally swallowed 2 of them, which resulted in five days at Inova Fairfax Hospital, at least 10 X-rays, three CT scans and an endoscopy. Finally, on Jan. 20, a surgeon used a metal instrument to manipulate the magnets into her appendix, avoiding major surgery. He then removed her appendix, and the magnets. These magnets can be found in toys, in jewelry and are even marketed as desktop toys for adults. The magnets the fifth grader was playing with are a popular brand known as, “Buckyballs,” which are small 5mm balls in diameter.

U.S. PIRG has highlighted the dangers of magnets in children’s toys for several years now. We have alerted parents and families to these hazards in our Tips for Toy Safety. And in our 2009 Trouble in Toyland Report, we recommended the Consumer Product Safety Commission have prominent warning labels on all children’s products about the dangers of magnets. In 2006 the Consumer Product Safety Commission was aware of 34 incidents including one death and three intestinal perforations.

Now with this latest incident in Portland, Oregon, where a three year old girl was rushed into emergency surgery recently after swallowing 37 tiny magnets, and no sign of a recall, we urge parents if they have had a scary incident with a magnet to alert the Consumer Product Safety Commission through their website. This database, which is approaching its one year anniversary, is a great resource for consumers, as with the click of a mouse, they can learn critical safety information about a product that is in their home or that they are about to purchase. They can also use the database to inform other parents about dangerous products--in this case more parents need to know about magnets and the harm they can do.

Unfortunately this database is now under threat from special interest. Currently a manufacturer is going to great lengths to keep its product off the database. A lawsuit was filed in October 2011 against the Consumer Product Safety Commission from putting "baseless allegations" against its product on its database. If this company is allowed to keep a report of a potentially hazardous product out of the database, it would effectively undermine a tool that Congress ordered created to protect consumers. And unfortunately due to certain bills that passed the house and are now in the Senate, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (H.R.10, S 299), the Regulatory Flexibility Improvement Act (H.R.527, S.1938), and the Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R.3010 S.1606) we will see more and more of these types of lawsuits where companies care more about their profits--not children’s safety. So please get the word out on any incidents you have had with magnets and other children’s products; use the website and call your Senators to tell them we don’t want these horrible bills to pass.