March 9th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

Magnetic stress relievers called health danger for kids

A 3-year-old girl had emergency surgery after 37 of them perforated her stomach and intestines. A 12-year-old Australian had her bowel torn in four places after swallowing five of them.

They are powerful pea-size magnets marketed as stress relievers for harried adults but called a safety risk for children by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The magnets are sold under the brand names Buckyballs and Nanospheres among others.

"We want parents to be aware of the danger associated with these innocent-looking magnets," safety commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said in a November statement. "The potential for serious injury and death if multiple magnets are swallowed demands that parents and medical professionals be aware of this hidden hazard and know how to treat a child in distress."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission then reported 22 incidents involving the magnets from 2009 through October. "Of the reported incidents, 17 involved magnet ingestion and 11 required surgical removal of the magnets. When a magnet has to be removed surgically, it often requires the repair of the child's damaged stomach and intestines," the commission statement said.

Surgery was what was needed in the two most recent cases, both reported this month.

The parent of Oregon 3-year-old Payton Bushnell thought she had stomach flu when they took her to the doctor, according to a report from CNN affiliate KPTV-TV in Portland. An X-ray revealed a circle in her stomach area that looked like a bracelet, according to the station. Doctors performed surgery and found the Buckyballs had snapped together inside the girl, ripping three holes in her intestines and one in her stomach, according to KPTV. Surgery was successful, and Payton is recovering.

"If we had any idea what those magnets could have done to our daughter's intestines, I would have never had them in our house," the girl's mother, Kelli Bushnell, told KPTV.

In Greta, Australia, Kaytlyn Waye, 12, tried to use the Buckyballs to fake a lip-piercing, putting them both inside and outside her mouth, according to the Newcastle Herald. She accidentally swallowed five of them, which attached to each other inside her and tore four holes in her intestine, the Herald reported. The girl is recovering following surgery, the paper said.

Maxfield and Oberton, the New York company that markets Buckyballs, warns repeatedly that magnets are for adults only. Packages display five such warnings, the company says.

In May 2010, the company, in cooperation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, recalled about 175,000 packages of the magnets, which at the time were labeled for ages 13 and up. Sets produced since March 2010 say "Keep Away From All Children," according to a commission release.

The Buckyballs website contains warnings in several places.

Currently atop the site is an acknowledgement of the Portland incident with warnings.

"Buckyballs was saddened to learn that a 3-year old girl in Oregon had swallowed high-powered magnets but we are relieved that she is expected to make a full recovery. This unfortunate incident underscores the fact that Buckyballs and Buckycubes are for adults. They are not toys and are not intended for children. We urge all consumers to read and comply with the warnings we place on all our products, on our website and in stores. Please keep these products out of the hands and reach of all children."

A video on the Buckyballs site also addresses child safety.

"If accidentally swallowed, they can cause damaging injuries and sometimes lead to emergency surgery or even death," the video says.

"So please keep them away from all children and we'll all have a little more fun and a lot less stress," it says.

"High-powered magnets, such as Buckyballs, are products for adult use only and should be kept away from all children," Craig Zucker, CEO of Maxfield and Oberton, said in the safety commission's November statement.

Dan Taggert, CEO of Kringles Toys and Gifts, which manufactures Nanospheres, makes the same point.

"We sell our magnetic desk toy product, Nanospheres, on Amazon.com for adults only. As the Amazon product description and warning labels on the product itself state, these products are hazardous if ingested and are not appropriate for young children," Taggert said in a statement.

"Warning: This product is hazardous if ingested, and is not intended for children under age 14," Kringles' Nanosphere webpage says.

Dr. Stephen Rothenberg, chief pediatric surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver, questions whether the warnings are enough, according to a report from CNN affiliate KWGN-TV in Denver.

Last year, Lauren Uliber of Denver, then 13, had her appendix removed after swallowing four magnets, according to the TV station.

“In the last two years, we've seen three to four cases per year,” Rothenberg told KWGN.

“I think they do need to be pulled from the shelf probably; if not, they need to come with very strict warnings about the dangers,” KWGN quoted Rothenberg as saying.

Buckyballs spokesman Andrew Frank told CNN on Friday that the company's warnings about not letting the magnets be used by children are direct and numerous.

"This is a very responsible company," Frank said.

He said Buckyballs are not sold in toy stores, and in other stores that may stock toys as part of their product line, the Buckyballs are sold from behind the counter.

"We want to make sure the product is used by the appropriate people," Frank said. And the company said parents need to be sure their children don't get hold of Buckyballs in the home.

Underscoring that point, Payton, the Oregon girl, appeared on NBC's "Today" show on Friday morning as her parents discussed the incident with the network's Carl Quintanilla.

The girl held up a specimen jar containing the magnets removed from her stomach. As her parents spoke with Quintanilla, Payton unscrewed the jar, allowed some of the magnets to curl around her thumb and then brought them up to her mouth before her father pushed them away and put them on the floor.

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Filed under: Australia • Colorado • Consumer safety • Health • Oregon
soundoff (324 Responses)
  1. david bird

    Another case of parents not keeping things away from their children. Common Sense is no longer a part of our society. Parents should be responsible enough to know small children will try to put things in their mouths. Its time to stop blaming companies and start blaming the negligant parents.

    March 10, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Madness

    i find the last two paragraphs to be hilarious

    March 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

    Parents should never let children play alone with things that can be swallowed. No such things should ever be in the reach of children! A child must be protected by adults. If it is not, the adults must be dimmed responsible! Some parents still have a "dr. Spock kind of mentality," which advocates for the children to be left alone and not trained to avoid dangers. In my opinion, such parents are the closest thing to a criminal that can be. This of course also goes for dr. Spock and the schools that idolatrize him!

    March 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Kat

    How hard is it for parents to take the things and put them where their little brats, erm I mean precious darlings cant get their hands on them? Since teaching their kids "dont touch it, its not yours" is too hard, putting them where the kids cant get them just might save a life.

    I have to wonder where some of these parents keep chemicals in their house..

    March 10, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • ser

      OH I will tell you where...right under teh sink in the kitchen and bathroom where they belong and where they are visible and accessible to my kids...only difference is...i teach and talk to my children....that is a dying practice in the this world....

      March 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Agreed, parents are to blame as they usually are. Take some responsibility. I suppose they should pull all household cleaners off the shelf too becuase kids might swallow them.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Playing battleship with a 3 year old? Those small parts are easily swallowed but I guess the parents know best.

      March 15, 2012 at 4:37 am | Report abuse |
  5. ForGoodOfAll

    Stupid parents who let a toddler play with the magnets! They should have a record with social services regarding child abuse & negligence.

    On the other hand, stupid teenager for ingesting the magnets – I am embarrassed for the poor parents!

    March 10, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. madduxkane

    This is absurd. This Rothenburg doctor is insane for suggesting they be removed bc of 3 to 4 neglectful parents a year. You don't let your children play with plastic bags so don't let them play with small pieces of metal that easily fit in their mouths.

    March 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jane

    I'm amazed at the naive people who think that parenting and keeping your kids safe is as simple as telling them what to do and what not to do. While some kids are naturally compliant ( and typically dull and unmotivated), many good very nice, bright kids are inquisitive, ocassionally impulsive, unaware of the dangers as they don't really understand the details, and overcome with curiosity at times. Accidents happen, and a few kids a year only have had these problems. It may be valid to pull the product, or not. The key is that kids must be very well supervised, and even then, its nearly impossible to prevent every possibility of danger. I raised an extraordinarily curious child, and he's now considered to be quite mature, responsible, and extremely accomplished. He's considered a straight arrow, respectful, and a marvelous son. Yet, there were some close calls, even with my diligence to to point of hovering, which I did because he was so curious and active that he could be a danger to himself. People, if you really think that parents of kids who do things like this don't set limits for telheir kids, your probably either not a parent or you have a naturally easy kid. Easy kids are not always the most accomplished, though so don't go patting yourself on the back and don't annoy parents who have to work harder than you do to keep their kids safe.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liz

      Well said! I am not a parent yet, but when I do become one, I hope I end up with a child who is curious about things! I WAS that kid, and I survived! I do think that the people who are going on and on about the parents' lack of supervision probably are not parents themselves. You just cannot watch your child's every move. You just can't. Things like this can literally happen in the blink of an eye. I used to laugh at the people who lost their kid when they turned their back "for just a few seconds", I thought they were full of it...a kid can't just disappear in a few seconds. Until I lost my nephew in a store, when I turned to look at the price tag of a shirt, 3 seconds at the most, and he was just gone. Found him hiding in the break room a few feet away, but he scared the life out of me! Things like this happen, and it absolutely does not make the parents negligent. People need tto cut them some slack. People are so judgmental these days! Try to be supportive of other people instead of trying to tear them down for every little mistake that is made. The world would be a much better place without all the criticism and unfair judgement.

      March 11, 2012 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
    • mnzen

      I am a parent of an adventurous child. I think we all know, that children, by nature are curious, some more than others, do not always do what they are told and need MUCH supervision. To implyt that a product, which is marketed with multi warnings it is NOT a toy, be pulled from the market because it is harmful to children, is reaally suggesting that parents cant read, think their child is above doing such childish things or never thought it would happen to them. All of which suggests a sense of immaturity. Get a grip parents. Its a tough job. Life is not perfect, nor are your children. Protect them as best you can and do not but toys for yourself (because you never would have bought them for your child wit hall those warnings) that may seem fun for your child to explore.

      March 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      As far as I can see, people aren't suggesting that parenting is as simple as telling your child not to do something. However, buying something that is marketed as dangerous for kids, and then leaving it in a place where your child can get it IS neglectful parenting. If you want to have and raise children, then you need to childproof your house. That's YOUR responsibility. Medicines, chemicals, matches, magnets – they all need to be kept out of the reach of children.

      March 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leo

      So if you have a hyper-curious, inquisitive, impulsive child with a penchant for putting things in his or her mouth... don't keep these magnets in the house! This is a no-brainer.

      March 12, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Ok fine, maybe it's not always the parents' fault. But stop blaming the manufacturer for everything. People need to take some personal responsibility for once.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      It doesn't sound like Jane was trying to blame the manufacturer of the product, she was just pointing out that it doesn't make the parents bad parents. True, they should not have had the magnets within reach, but how many people can say that they've never set something down, and then just forgot about it? Accidents happen, and people should not be so hard on the parents, who are already having a hard time, as their child is in the hospital, nor should they blame the manufacturer, since they did use proper cautionary labels.

      March 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Farfignewgin

    Shouold be labeled not intended for most adults over 35, especially senior citizens on medication < pillbox.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. best 77

    You can childproof your house till the cows come home, and you will stillhave incidents! kids PUSH THE LIMITS! i would be worried if a kid never pushed the limits! most parents are good parents and try their best. stop the judgemental BS! a parent cannot watch their child every second-its NOT possible! like another person said, it takes seconds for a child to dissapear-my children have on purpose hidden under the clothes rack! my mom hid the vitamins atop the fridge-my brother climbed the counter, ate them

    March 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Leo

    To all the people whining that you "can't stop curious kids" and control their every move, here's some simple advice:

    If you have a hyper-curious, inquisitive, impulsive child with a penchant for putting things in his or her mouth... don't keep these magnets in the house! Even the most impetuous child can't eat something that isn't there! This is a no-brainer.

    March 12, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. N. Tesla

    The beads could have been demagnetized by passing a strong AC current through an insulated wire coil around the torso. Might have reduced the damage, but would not have completely prevented it.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Spidey-Man

    I would guess that she took five tries before giving up.

    March 16, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Davide

    The really senseless aspect is that this was a product useless to anyone except to those profiting from fraudulent claims as to their effectiveness. Now we know that they are worse than useless, nothing less than an attractive hazard that, to a child, is a dead ringer for a pill or candy. No reason these should have ever been on the market.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:25 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mickey1313

    parents need to parent. These are not a toy, and if used properly have zero health risks. Why should the company change because parents cant control there da#n kids. Parenting is a privalage, not a right.

    March 22, 2012 at 12:24 am | Report abuse | Reply
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