High-Powered Magnets Pose an Ingestion Hazard with Serious Injuries

magnetic balls

New regulations proposed to eliminate potentially fatal hazards

These little metal balls aren't like the ordinary magnets that stick to your refrigerator door.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), just one high-powered magnet is up to eight times stronger than the one you picked up during your last visit to a souvenir shop. The magnets are even stronger in multiples.

"One kilogram of these drives a Prius," Dr. R. Adam Noel, an associate professor of pediatric gastroenterology at Baylor College, said.

From 2009 to 2013, nearly 3,000 children and young adults have wound up in the hospital after ingesting at least one high-powered magnet.

When two or more magnets are ingested, they can easily attach to one another and form a blockage in the intestines, cutting off blood flow to the stomach and potentially killing the victim. If the object is caught before that point, it must be removed surgically, causing damage to the intestines and stomach that must be repaired. In one case, a large section of a child's intestine had to be removed permanently in order to extract the magnet.

While there is a limit on the power of magnets in children's toys, there is no such regulation on objects designated for adults. The CPSC wants this to change as soon as possible.

The commission proposed new safety rules earlier this month, citing the many serious injuries and containment problems with the magnets and cubed sets that contain more than 100 of the metal balls. Advocates of the regulations say that pieces of the sets can easily disappear into carpets where small children can find them and ingest them.

The new rules would require any powerful magnet to be larger than the size of a child's throat or about one-fiftieth as powerful as those currently on the market.

In the past few months, the CPSC helped issue recalls and refunds for two manufacturers of the powerful magnets: Star Networks USA's Magnicubes and Maxfield & Oberton's Buckyballs and Buckycubes. The latter company has since shut down.

Were You or Your Child Injured by a Dangerous Product?

When you purchase a product for yourself or your child, you expect it to be safe and perform as intended. Watching out for defective and dangerous products isn't necessarily going to be on your radar. But what happens if what you thought was safe really wasn't? Make sure you know what steps to take if you or your child have been injured by a faulty or mislabeled product. Take action right away – there are time limits to file your claim.

“New Safety Rules Weighed for Magnets.” The New York Times. Sept. 10, 2014.
“Magnets Information Center.” Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2014.