Magnets in children’s toys are, more and more, proving to be extremely dangerous if swallowed. Although no studies exist about how many children have ingested dangerous, high-powered magnets, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) data indicates that it has received 200 reports since 2008.
Dr. R. Adam Noel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Louisiana State University Heath Science Center, asked pediatric gastroenterologist colleagues about their experiences with magnets and found that of the 33 doctors who responded to his survey, 82 children were seen who had swallowed magnets. Most, said CNN, suffered bowel perforations. “I’m surprised by how little protection there is,” Noel told CNN.
In 2006, the CPSC, with Mattel, announced a voluntary recall of more than 4 million sets of a plastic doll whose clothes and accessories were constructed with magnets, said CNN. Now, said a CPSC spokesman, the Commission might recall adult magnet toys. “We’re an agency with a history of a few bans,” said spokesman, Scott Wolfson. “All options are still on the table,” he added. Naturally, makers of adult magnet-containing toys, disagree, saying if used correctly, the products are safe.
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, said CNN. “Is there really any truly safe way of keeping these products out of the hands of children?” Dr. Maria OIiva-Hemker, chief of the division of pediatric gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, asked. She, along with Dr. Noah and colleagues met with the CPSC in Washington, DC this week, said CNN.
Noel’s presentation to the CPSC entitled “Not Your Grandfather’s Magnets,” pointed out that “rare earth” or “neodynium” magnets are significantly more powerful than traditional magnets. Because of their power, the magnets, which tend to become attracted in the body and clump together, are very difficult to separate, CNN said. Dr. Steven Schwarz, a professor of pediatrics at Downstate Medical Center in New York, described removing a bracelet made of 29 high-powered magnets, which ended up in the stomach of a 13-month-old girl. “It’s not easy to pull them apart,” he told CNN. “You can feel the resistance.”
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. As we’ve said, if magnets are swallowed, serious injuries and/or death can occur. The CPSC issued previous safety alerts and developed a 2008 mandatory standard to prevent magnets from detaching from toys.
Risk scenarios differ by age, but the danger is the same, the CPSC noted. When multiple magnets are swallowed they can attract internally, resulting in serious 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.