Jonathan and Meaghin Jordan of Kiln, Miss., bought a set of magnets and enjoyed moving them into various shapes. Their fun ended, however, when they discovered their 2-year-old son Braylon had swallowed eight of the magnets.
Some of the magnets joined partway through Braylon’s intestinal tract, and he suffered a perforated bowel. Last month, surgeons removed his small intestine; the youngster is likely to face more surgery.
This story is one of hundreds involving magnets swallowed by curious children. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, has issued warnings about magnet ingestion in the past. In April 2007, the agency cautioned that magnets could come loose from some products and pose a danger to children. Last November, CPSC and Maxfield & Oberton Holdings LLC worked cooperatively to inform the public of possible risks posed by high-powered magnet balls sold as adult desk toys.
Those sets are made of strong, rare earth magnets that can hold many times their own weight. Since they’re more powerful than regular magnets, they’re likely to combine once ingested. That can cause twisting and tearing of the stomach or intestines, blood poisoning and possibly death.
The CPSC received one ingestion report involving ball-bearing-type magnets in 2009, seven in 2010 and 14 through October 2011. The incidents involved children aged from 18 months to 15 years. Seventeen of the cases involved ingestion of magnets, and 11 required surgical removal.
The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition found during a recent survey of its members that there were more than 60 magnet ingestions in two years, resulting in 23 bowel perforations and requiring 26 surgeries.
Maxfield, the maker of Buckyballs and Buckycubes, is up front about the danger. Products on the company’s website all display the caution, “Warning: Keep Away From All Children.” The firm says every package carries the warning in five different places, with more warnings on the instructions.
A company video puts it plainly: “If accidentally swallowed, they can cause damaging injuries and sometimes lead to emergency surgery or even death.” Why, you might ask, does the firm continue to market what it admits is a risky item?
The company says it’s all about consumer choice and responsibility. It markets the magnets as fun desk toys for consumers ages 14 and older. The company says its warnings are clear and sufficient, and it’s up to the adults who buy them to make sure they don’t get into children’s hands.
The company says that since the CPSC relies on warnings to prevent other consumer injuries, the agency should not ban sales of magnets. Of a half billion magnets in the marketplace, the firm says there have been “fewer than two dozen cases of misuse.” On its website, it tells CPSC, “Thank you for trying to drive a $50 million New York-based consumer products company out of business.”
Last week CPSC filed suit against the company calling Buckyballs and Buckycubes — the company’s only products — a “substantial product hazard.” CPSC asked major retailers to stop selling the products, and some have complied. Maxfield says the lawsuit gives the company a chance to defend its products, “but only after ruining its retailer base through intimidation tactics.”
Whatever a judge finally rules, CPSC’s suggestions on magnet safety are worth reading:
• Keep small magnets away from young children who might swallow them.
• Look out for loose magnet pieces and regularly inspect toys and children’s play areas for missing or dislodged magnets.
• If you suspect that magnets have been swallowed, seek medical attention immediately.
• Look for abdominal symptoms, such as abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
• Note that in X-rays, multiple magnetic pieces may appear as a single object.
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