High-Powered Magnet Toys Would be Banned Under Proposed CPSC Rule

The sales of high-powered magnets could soon be banned by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), according to a notice of proposed rulemaking recently drafted by Commission members.  According to a report from Law360.com, the CPSC proposal would ban high-powered magnet toys like Buckyballs unless the magnets fall below a certain strength level.

Before it can issue a final rule, the CPSC must find that it is “reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce an unreasonable risk of injury associated with such product” and that issuing the rule is in the public interest.”

News of the proposed magnet ban follows two lawsuits the CPSC filed in recent weeks that seek to halt sales of Buckyballs and Zen Magnet Rare Earth Magnet Balls toys.  According to the CPSC, when two or more magnets are swallowed, they can pinch or trap the intestinal walls or other digestive tissue between them resulting in acute and long-term health consequences, the CPSC said.   Magnets that attract through the intestines result in progressive tissue injury, leading to infection, sepsis and possibly death.  Despite a number of recalls and warning campaigns, the CPSC says children, from toddlers to teens, continue to suffer serious injuries after accidental ingestion of these small, powerful magnets. According to the CPSC draft proposal, there have been 1,700 ingestions of magnets from magnet sets were treated in emergency departments between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2011.

The magnets that would be covered by the CPSC’s proposed rule are comprised of numerous identical, spherical, or cube-shaped high-powered magnets and measure approximately three to six millimeters in size, with the majority made from NdFeB (Neodymium-Iron-Boron or NIB). They are marketed to adults as brain development toys and puzzles, and are often used to make various two- and three-dimensional forms, jewelry, and toys, such as a spinning top.  Sets may include as many as 216 tiny (2mm to 5mm), high-powered magnets.

“As objects, the magnet sets have some appeal for virtually all age groups,” the CPSC proposal 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 CPSC noted that while most products are labeled “14+,” others have no specific age listed on the packaging.   Some retail websites also market the magnets for ages 13 or 14.  Additional warning on packaging may state “choking hazard, not for children under 3,” other warn that they could be kept away from all children.

According to Law360, the last time the CPSC filed an administrative lawsuit over an allegedly dangerous, it involved a BB gun made by Daisy Manufacturing.  In 2000, the  CPSC claimed a defect made it difficult for users to know whether the BB gun’s firing chamber was loaded.  The case dragged on until 2003, when Daisy made a settlement offer, which the CPSC at first rejected, but accepted later that year. Though Daisy did not admit to any wrongdoing in the deal, it agreed to launch a five-year, $1.5 million safety promotion campaign and to put multiple warnings on the product.

Legal experts told Law360 that it’ likely that the lawsuits over Buckyballs and Zen Magnets will drag on even longer, because the CPSC doesn’t believe there is any way to make them safe.

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