U.S. safety regulators have filed yet another lawsuit against a manufacturer of high-powered magnet toys. According to a statement from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency has filed an administrative complaint against Zen Magnets LLC, of Denver, Colo., alleging that their Rare Earth Magnet Balls desk toys pose a substantial risk of injury to the public.
The CPSC’s lawsuit seeks to force the company to stop selling Zen Magnets Rare Earth Magnet Balls, notify the public of the defect and offer consumers who purchased the toys a full refund. The complaint alleges that the Commission has received reports of tweens and teenagers using similar products to mimic piercings of the tongue, lip or cheek which have resulted in incidents where the product is unintentionally inhaled and swallowed. 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.
Just last month, the CPSC filed a similar lawsuit against New York-based Maxfield & Oberton seeking the removal of Buckyballs and Buckycubes magnet toys from the market. In 2011, thousands of units of Buckyballs were recalled because they were being marketed to children under 14, in violation of federal safety standards. While Buckyballs and Buckycubes are now marketed to adults, the CPSC says children are still being injured by the magnets. In announcing the Buckyballs lawsuit, the CPSC alleged that it had received at least a dozen reports of children being injured after swallowing Buckyballs since 2009. In cooperation with the CPSC, Maxfield & Oberton launched a campaign in 2011 to inform consumers that the Buckyballs products are intended for use by adults only. But reports of ingestions have continued, leading the Commission to conclude that warnings are not adequate to address the dangers posed by these types of powerful magnets.
According to the CPSC, 11 manufacturers and/or importers of sets of small, powerful, individual magnets, all of which are made in China, have voluntarily agreed to the Commissions requests that they stop the manufacture, import, distribution and sale of their magnet products. Only Zen Magnets and Maxfield & Oberton have refused to do so.
The Zen Magnets Rare Earth Magnet Balls were marketed between 2009 and 2010 as “fun to play with” magnets that “look good on cute people.” The CPSC alleges that in October 2011, its staff notified the firm that the product did not comply with the federal mandatory toy standard, which requires that such magnets not be marketed to children under 14. Discussions with Zen Magnets failed to result in a voluntary recall plan that CPSC staff considered adequate to stop further injuries to children.
The CPSC’s lawsuit alleges that Zen Magnet’s warning and labeling are defective because they do not effectively communicate the hazard associated with ingestion of the magnets. The Commission also charges that the magnet’s design and packaging are also defective because they fail to prevent children from gaining access to the product, and do not allow parents or caregivers to know readily if a magnet is missing and is potentially within the reach of a young child. Finally, the complaint alleges that once separated from the packaging, the individual magnets themselves display no warning against ingestion or aspiration, and the small size of the individual magnets does not allow the addition of such a warning.