Battat Incorporated of Plattsburgh, New York was just fined by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for failing to report dangerous magnet toys. The CPSC announced that Battat agreed to pay a civil penalty of $400,000, which has been accepted provisionally by the Commission (4-0). The settlement resolves CPSC staff allegations that Battat knowingly failed to report the defect and hazard linked to Magnabild Magnetic Building Sets to the CPSC immediately, which is mandated under federal law.
The Magnabild was a magnetic building set labeled for ages three and older; however, small magnets inside the building pieces can fall out. If found by young children, these pieces can be swallowed or aspirated, which can lead to serious, fatal consequences if more than one magnet is swallowed.
As we’ve explained, when multiple magnets are swallowed they can attract internally, resulting in significant injuries; potentially fatal problems can be difficult to diagnose; initial physical exams might not reveal a serious problem; and patients can suffer from bowel perforation, volvulus (intestinal twisting causing obstruction), ischemia (inadequate blood flow to a part of the body caused by constriction or blockage of the blood vessels), and death. When magnets pass in the body beyond the stomach, they can attract each other through divergent intestinal walls, which is when obstruction can occur and when necrosis—death of cells or tissue—or intestinal perforation can occur. About 20% of all swallowing accidents require surgery.
CPSC staff alleged that, in October 2005, Battat received its first report of magnets coming loose from the Magnabild. CPSC staff contacted Battat in July 2007; when the firm reported to CPSC on October 12, 2007, Battat had received 16 reports of magnets coming out of the Magnabild and two reports of children ingesting the non-magnetized steel balls. CPSC staff alleges that Battat was aware of the dangers posed to children by the ingestion of magnets by this time; in part, because of the March 2006 recall of the Rose Art Magnetix Building Set, in which one death, four serious injuries, and 35 incidents were reported.
Between November 2006 and July 2007, the CPSC said it re-announced the Rose Art Magnetix Building Set recall over additional serious injuries to children; issued a “Magnet Safety Alert” warning parents of the risk of serious injury and death to children resulting from magnet ingestion; and announced five separate recalls for several million toys containing magnets over the potential for magnet liberation.
CPSC staff alleges that Battat knew about the CPSC’s efforts and the risks posed to children by the magnets falling out of the Magnabild and failed to report the dangerous defect immediately to the CPSC, as required by federal law. Despite being aware in April or May 2006 of the possibility that small magnets could cause intestinal injury, Battat did not report until October 2007 after three requests from staff. In that report Battat neglected to advise the CPSC of the defect and resulting potential hazards in two more models of the product.
Battat and CPSC announced a voluntary recall of 125,000 Magnabilds on January 23, 2008, which can be accessed at: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml08/08173.html; that recall was expanded on March 13 of the same year to include 7,000 more Magnabilds (see: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml08/08221.html). Magnabilds were sold, nationwide, from August 2004 to February 2008 for between $20 and $40. No injuries associated with magnets falling out of the Magnabild.
We recently wrote that increasing incident reports received by the CPSC point to a continuing problem with high-powered magnets and their safety risks to children. The CPSC reports that children of all ages, including teens, are swallowing magnets and suffering severe consequences. The CPSC issued previous safety alerts and developed a 2008 mandatory standard to prevent magnets from detaching from toys; however, experts are not convinced warnings and education are enough. For instance, it would be difficult to keep track of every magnet in a product containing hundreds of magnets and children are naturally attracted to the items, since they look like candy.