July 25, 2012 — The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) announced today that they have filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of Buckyballs, a popular high-powered magnet toy consisting of dozens of small, round magnets. For several years, CPSC has taken increasing regulatory action against manufacturers of toys containing small, round magnets. The problem is that if more than one magnet is swallowed, it could attach inside the body and cause intestinal perforation or obstruction.
The CPSC has received dozens of reports of children swallowing magnet toys. At least 12 ingestions were due to Buckyballs. Although the majority of the injuries occurred when young children accidentally swallowed the magnets, older children have also been injured. In March, a teenage girl accidentally swallowed four Buckyballs when she and some friends used them to simulate tongue piercings. The girl required two surgeries to remove the magnets from her intestines.
At the request of the CPSC, major retailers (including Urban Outfitters, Amazon, and Brookstone) have agreed to stop selling Buckyballs, Buckycubes, and similar magnet toy products. The CPSC has also asked the product’s manufacturers to refund customers and post notices on online retail websites saying that the product is defective.
The company that manufactures Buckyballs issued this statement in a press release: “CPSC: Thank you for trying to drive a $50 million New York-based consumer product company out of business.” The company, Maxfield & Oberton, manufactures no other products. Since 2009, they have sold more than 2.5 million of the toys.
The CPSC stated that the toys present a “substantial product hazard.” Despite efforts to put warnings on the toys, injuries have continued to occur. The CPSC said that the packaging is defective because it isn’t childproof. Furthermore, parents cannot easily tell whether some of the magnets are missing from the set.
The CPSC previously issued a safety warning about Buckyballs in 2011. The agency attempted to raise public awareness about the risk of magnet toys. The package contains prominent warnings about the risk of injury, especially for children. However, the CPSC was concerned that the products are not often placed back into their package. The agency found that the toys were “intensely appealing to children,” and warnings were ineffective to prevent injury.
The manufacturers of Buckyballs voluntarily recalled 175,000 sets because their labels said they were for children 13 and older. Federal law prohibits sales of magnet toys to anyone under 14 years old. The company also placed five prominent warnings on the boxes and updated its website with safety information. The products are not marketed toward children, but rather as an adult desktop toy.
It is unusual for the CPSC to file a lawsuit to force a product recall. Usually, after the CPSC learns about a dangerous product, a company is asked to initiate a voluntary recall. It has been 11 years since the CPSC ordered a mandatory recall, when they recalled BB guns made by Daisy Manufacturing. The BB guns were eventually allowed, but with prominent warnings.
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