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.