Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York

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Gillibrand Urges Feds to Ban the Sale of Dangerous High-Powered Toy Magnets

Since 2010, At Least 43 Children Have Ingested High-Powered Magnets, Causing Severe Stomach and Intestinal Damage

June 19, 2012

Washington, DC – With a recent rise in reported cases of toddlers and children who accidentally swallowed high-powered toy magnets that can be deadly and cause life-threatening injuries, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today urged the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban the sale of these dangerous, high-powered magnetic balls that can be formed into different shapes from the retail market.  This year alone, there were at least 19 reported incidents of children who accidentally ingested these magnets, including four children in New York State. 

“These dangerous magnets are increasingly ending up in the hands and mouths of children, putting their lives at grave risk,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Every parent wants to keep their child safe and this unsuspecting product has already caused too much harm. We should stop these dangerous toys from reaching any more homes and stores.”   

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tennenbaum, “I write to you today about an issue of increasing concern, the accidental ingestion of high-powered magnets by children.  I commend the action your agency has taken to alert consumers on the risk that these magnets pose through your ad campaign.  These magnets are incredibly powerful and causing serious health issues in children who swallow them.  I am urging you to go one step further and ban the sale of these magnets in retail stores and limit use to professional use only… [C]urrent warnings on the packaging are not reducing the number of incidences of accidental ingestion, and in fact, cases are on the rise.  Again, I urge you to remove these dangerous products from the retail market.       

Since 2010, there have been at least 43 incidents of children and toddlers who accidentally swallowed these magnets, according to the CPSC, with an increase in incidents each year. In 2005, a 20-month-old boy died after he swallowed nine magnets. In March of this year, a 3-year-old girl in Oregon swallowed 37 high-powered Buckyballs magnets, which tore at least three holes in her lower intestines and another in her stomach. When accidentally swallowed, these small “rare earth” or “neodymium” magnets can twist intestines, causing bowel ulcerations, intestinal damage, blood poisoning and even death.  

CPSC announced a voluntary recall in May 2010 of Buckeyballs that were incorrectly marked for ages 13 and older, a violation of toy labeling standards. The packaging on Buckeyballs contains a warning for parents, but Senator Gillibrand pointed out that these warnings are not reducing the number of incidents of children accidentally ingesting these products. 

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter is below:

Dear Ms. Tenenbaum, 

                I write to you today about an issue of increasing concern, the accidental ingestion of high-powered magnets by children.  I commend the action your agency has taken to alert consumers on the risk that these magnets pose through your ad campaign.  These magnets are incredibly powerful and causing serious health issues in children who swallow them.  I am urging you to go one step further and ban the sale of these magnets in retail stores and limit use to professional use only. 

                Neodymium magnets are often sold in packages of 100 or more and are 5 millimeter spheres.  They are currently being marketed as novelty items for those aged 14 or older and are becoming increasingly available in stores and online.  Despite the warnings required on packaging, these magnets are getting into the hands of children under the age of 14. 

                The complications from this product arise when they are accidentally ingested.  Your agency has documented 43 cases of children of a variety of ages who have ingested these and other small magnets- toddlers who swallow them because they look like candy and adolescents who are mimicking jewelry piercings in their mouths or nose.  When two or more are ingested, there is the possibility that the magnets will come together in the intestinal tract and pinch intestinal walls together.  This can potentially cause bowel ulceration, perforations in the intestine, and severe injury.  The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition estimates that about a third of magnet ingestions result in bowel perforation and half require surgery.               

                On May 27, 2010, your agency announced a voluntary recall of such products being sold under the name Buckeyballs® High Powered Magnet Sets marked with “Ages 13+” due to not meeting mandatory toy standard F963-08.  Your agency clearly sees the risk in these novelty items, however the current warnings on the packaging have not reduced the number of incidences of accidental ingestion, and in fact, cases are on the rise.  I understand that no warning is ever enough to prevent all incidents, however, I urge you to remove these dangerous products from the retail market to decrease the potential access children may have.      

                Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.