The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has begun the process to set new federal standards for small, high-powered magnet toy sets. The Commission’s 4 to 0 vote to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking comes as CPSC staff estimates that small, high powered magnet sets were associated with 1,700 emergency room-treated injuries between 2009 and 2011, most of which occurred in children between the ages of 4 and 12.
If swallowed, these magnets can link together inside a child’s intestines and clamp onto body tissues, causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis and death. Internal damage from magnets can pose serious lifelong health effects. According to the CPSC, high-powered magnet sets are sold as sculptures, puzzles, and stress relievers marketed to adult. However, they have a strong appeal to children and pose a potential for high-severity injuries.
“As objects, the magnet sets have some appeal for virtually all age groups,” the CPSC proposed rule states. “First, they tend to capture attention because they are shiny and reflect light. Physically, they are smooth, which gives them tactile appeal, and they make soft snapping sounds as one manipulates them. As a stimulus set, they have the properties of novelty, which arouses curiosity; incongruity, which tends to surprise and amuse; and complexity, which tends to challenge and maintain interest.”
The proposed mandatory standard would set performance requirements for magnet sets based on their size and strength, the CPSC said. Magnet sets that do not meet the performance requirement could not be sold as a manipulative or a desk toy. The CPSC’s proposed rule amounts to a ban on all magnet sets sold today.
The notice of proposed rulemaking follows two lawsuits the Commission filed this month seeking to have Buckyballs and Buckycubes magnet toys and Zen Magnet Rare Earth Magnet Balls toy sets removed from the market. As we reported previously, 11 manufacturers and/or importers of similar magnet sets voluntarily have agreed to the CPSC request to stop their manufacture, import, distribution and sale. Zen Magnets and Maxfield & Oberton, the maker of Buckyballs, are the only companies that have refused to comply. Both companies have vowed to fight the CPSC’s lawsuits.
The proposed rule has a 75 day public comment period.