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 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. Donna Reed

    Well, what the holy hell is the purpose of these magnets, anyway?

    March 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • revnowwhilewecan

      They're bebe size powerful magnetic balls that you can use to make three dimensional designs.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick in Boston

      What difference does it make what purpose they serve? If you have them in your house and you have children in your house, take a little responsibility! It really is ridiculous that so many people have to go to such insane lengths to get people to stop their children from doing stupid things.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dennis Kennedy

    “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.
    Oh come ON! The packages already clearly state who the product is for and the inherent dangers if mis-used! What's next, requiring gas station warnings stating that hey, if you pour this stuff all over yourself and light a mtach, you'll burst into flames? Let's get real here, people. How about some common sense and responsibility? We're getting close to the level of Darwin Award candidates.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • revnowwhilewecan

      I agree Dennis! This Rothenberg doctor is a JOKE. How about calling for the removal of parents that let their toddlers play with steel balls instead of asking for a recall! What an idiot! It's doctors like these that are paid by Big Pharm and perscribe 100's of meds to children who don't pay attention or are a little hyper! STOP giving drugs and shift the blame and support where it is needed. With the parents!

      March 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      I agree. Another instance of government doing the job parents are supposed to. A warning is all that is needed. Parents should be the ones making sure these stay away from their children.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      I think I am starting to believe the plot of "The Golden Child". Does anybody remember that movie? A child is born and embodies the "special quality" like Justice, Peace, Love, etc.

      I swear, the child of "Common Sense" was the first one born, and killed off, which is why stories like these happen.

      Why aren't the parents charged with abuse. If they (the child) did this to themselves with a gun, another "Adult-Only" product, we would be demanding they pay the price.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • J

      Just like video game warnings, health warnings on alcohol, tobacco, etc.. Parents, you and you alone are raising your kids. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT IS IN YOUR HOUSE. I have two packs of Buckyballs... both VERY CLEARLY say on the outside, NOT FOR CHILDREN. Window cleaner looks like tasty blue drinkable liquid... your kids might drink it too... probably should pull that from the shelves. Light bulbs are shiny and bright... kids love that stuff... but they get hot... probably shouldn't have them in your house.... you own YOUR life.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Garrett

    I can understand a 3 yea old eating them. That's about the time they'll put anything in their mouth still.. But a 12 year old, seriously!?

    March 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ann

      I agree. I think the 12 and 13 years olds may also need a mental eval.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jill cobb

      You beat me to it. My thoughts exactly. No excuse for a 12 year old to swallow any of these magnets....certainly not five of them.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Stucky

    Ugh. Made my stomach turn. The last time I felt taken aback like this was when that puppy swallowed a steak knife.
    High tech sucks at times, but thank gawd for the X-ray machine.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mick

    Any product can be harmful to someone using it wrong or who is too young to understand the dangers of ingesting it.
    But, parents should be smarter about what they choose to bring into their home, and where they choose to display items that can be harmful to their child.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe

    "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.

    Really? Do you have knives, scissors, and thumb tacks in your house? Those would do some damage to your daughter's intestines as well... How about taking some responsibility as a parent and not letting your daughter play with small, swallow-able toys?

    March 9, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • KnowBrians

      I read that statement as "If I had known I would have to watch these children, I would have never had them." I have three kids under 6. You have to on your toes. Stop watching Oprah and Real Housewives, and keep an eye on your kids.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      If they had any idea? What about the large warning label on the package. People should be required to take a test before having children.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joe

    Just another case of failed parenting. So many horrible parents out there these days.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Burbank

    Pleeaaasse don't start demanding laws about getting rid of them! It's the responsibility of parents to keep this stuff where children can't access it. If their offspring get killed due to bad parenting, that's Darwin at work.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexDoc

      The only reason to get rid of them is these 'health' magnets that are sold for 'cures' are a sham. Your standing on the biggest most powerful magnet anyone, anywhere has ever seen, it's called Earth.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • JamesBenson

      Tex, they're sold not as magnetic cures like the bracelets. They're like stress balls – they're something to play with to reduce stress by redirecting your focus onto something fun.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. TexDoc

    If you think that a small magnet will help, you'll do very well standing on the largest most powerful magnet you'll ever be near, your own planet Earth. The earth is only large magnet. Millions of times stronger than these 'health' magnets. Save your money it's a sham.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • JamesT

      The article was very poorly written. I thought at first they were talking about magnets you were supposed to swallow, wear or in some way connect with your body. I was almost through it when I realized they were talking about the 'stress relief' toy that you can build stuff with.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      You are dumb as hell. These magnets are just toys, they aren't "health magnets."

      March 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kelly

      um....they are not selling these magnets to cure problems, like the magnetic jewelery. The are selling these as stress relievers in order for the user to do a small task with their hands (molding the small magnets into shapes). THAT is what relieves the stress.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Physics

      Last time I checked(1 minute ago), the Earth's magnetic strength (intensity to you or me) was about 0.65 Tesla. These little toys have magnetic fields which are much, much higher at small distances (i.e., when they touch you or me). The Earth is a "larger" magnet with a higher, but not more "powerful" necessarily; the power depends on the distance away from the magnet (inverse square of the distance, if I remember correctly). Misinformation is the sham, good sir. However, I don't think that they have any beneficial health effects, so I will definitely agree with you there...

      March 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wrong target.

      They aren't "health" magnets. They are small spherical magnets that you can make designs and sculptures out of. They do not in any way claim to cure or treat anything, they are intended as an amusement for adults. They have nothing to do with the shysters who claim their magnet bracelets will attune your blood to the cosmos or some such nonsense.

      In the future, just do an Internet search and find out what you are commenting on before making yourself look foolish.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      JoePhysics – when you find a kid who can swallow the earth, then a warning label WILL be necessary. Or something. Ha ha.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joe Physics

    Okay, well, here's the problem. Just like you don't leave buckets of bleach out, or matches on the carpet, "Buckyballs" and "Nanospheres" are just as dangerous, as we unfortunately have learned. In fact, I remember similar toys as a child, and these were always encapsulated in large plastic molds so that I wouldn't be able to swallow, and if I did, the Fe (iron), CO (cobalt) and Ni (nickel) mixture that they presumably used for TOYS were very weak compared to the un-encapsulated, rare-earth containing mixtures that BBalls or NSpheres presumably use.
    My point- These are adult toys, and are dangerous to youngsters. I have six sets of these, and I absolutely love them. However, if my child were to get a hold of them, I'd only have myself to blame, not the manufacturer. Lessons aren't always to lean, and I hate to read these types of articles.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • JamesBenson

      Ditto. I have four sets. I keep them on the top shelf of my bookcase to keep them away from my dogs. When I use them, I shut the door and keep my dogs out of the room. The warnings are explicit and many. We're adults – it's our job to keep kids and pets safe.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. M

    When you have a toddler you ALWAYS have to watch what they are doping and what you leave around.

    The fact that at the end of the article it indicates the parents again let the child "play" with the magnets indicates to me this child will be hurt again in the future. Maybe not from the magnets but something. They just don't keep a close eye on her.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JamesBenson

    I'm happy to see the article covers the extensive lengths to which Buckyballs and co. go to make adults aware of the risks. The packaging and websites, as well as any sites selling them, are positively plastered with warnings. If a three year old got them, that's unfortunate, but the fault lays with the parents, not the company or product. The twelve year old can read (I hope) so that's her mistake.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Johnny

    "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." Payton is the 3 year old. Why, after what happened, would her parents even let her hold the jar containing the magnets?

    March 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Roger_20

    Kids are so stupid!

    March 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      The parents are to blame, even if only for providing minimal intelligence through DNA.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JeffRo

    I bought these a long time ago when they first came out and actually read the box explaining that these could kill you if you swallow them. Hence the reason none of my children nor myself have done so. Read the package then be a parent. It's that easy.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
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