August 6, 2012 — Recently, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit to ban magnet toys. Some companies have refused to comply, claiming the nationwide ban on magnet toys is overzealous government regulation. The company responsible for Zen Magnets says they will refuse to cooperate with the “unfair ban on all small magnets.” Buckyballs and other magnet toys will no longer be sold in major retail outlets.
Zen Magnets has created a website, www.savemagnets.com, and started a petition. Maxfield & Oberton, which sells Buckyballs, created a video that urges customers to protest the CPSC. Online sales of the magnet toys have been strong, although retailers are pulling the products from store shelves.
Advocates for the magnet toys say they carry warnings and are not marketed toward children. Furthermore, the CPSC allows other potentially dangerous products to be sold with warnings — fireworks, button batteries, and balloons, for example.
However, the CPSC is standing firm on their decision to ban the magnet toys. The last time the CPSC filed a lawsuit to ban a product was 11 years ago, when they banned certain types of BB guns.
The problem with the magnet toys is that they are intensely appealing to children, and the warnings on the package are ineffective once the product is taken out of the box. Furthermore, because each product may contain hundreds of small magnet balls, it is difficult for parents to ascertain whether a few balls are missing.
If at least two magnets are swallowed, they may attach to each other inside the gastrointestinal system. They may rip through the stomach or intestinal wall — this could cause stomach acid to leak into the abdominal cavity, sepsis, or blood poisoning. These injuries can be life-threatening or deadly.
Scott Wolfson, the spokesperson for the CPSC, described the injuries “like a gunshot wound to the gut with no sign of entry or exit.” He said, “We are not going to wait for a death to happen.”
Since 2009, the CPSC has received dozens of reports of people swallowing the magnets, and many of the victims were children who required abdominal surgery to remove the magnets. About half of the reports involved Buckyballs.
In response to the injuries, the CPSC required manufacturers to place prominent warnings on the toys. They also attempted to raise public awareness about the dangers of swallowing the magnets. However, the agency continued to receive reports of accidental ingestion, and they concluded that misuse is inevitable.
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