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. PB

    Though it is unlikely that adults would swallow magnets, the article should make the point that swallowed magnets are dangerous for everyone. It almost seems like the danger is for children because they are not fully developed. As to why an older child would swallow magnets, that is a good question, but one for the psychologists. I once swallowed a chemical in 7th grade because I was told it turn my urine blue.It did. It was moronic. Children are temporary morons as they try to figure out how things work. That's why they adults.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • sb

      Did your urine turn blue?

      March 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rosemarie

    Can we say honorary Darwin awards??

    March 9, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SPENT

    Put warning labels so that these little ones can read them...Come on mr/miss atty. make another case so you can swallow up the bucks...Cannot hold parents do not want to do that, for accountability is out the window just ask Darwin and those that live in la la land.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Louise Kessler

      and so she had major surgery, so why are the parents having her play with the battleship tiny pegs and having it filmed by CNN? is this a cry for help from the parents in need of childhood safety education?

      March 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Louise Kessler

      what lawyer would take the case where the parents are caught on film giving their 3 yo child tiny pegs to play with and potentially choke on.

      March 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • RD

      "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,"
      Or maybe don't be a dumb sht and keep small swallow hazards away from you're kids. Thats like saying " If I had known a gun would blow my kids face I wouldn't have kept it in the house". Put it in a safe place and it won't be an issue.

      March 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PPJr

    And of course it goes without saying that those magnets, well, to call them a snake oil would be insulting for a snake oil.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ned

      And notice how the makers of this crap are not prosecuted.

      March 10, 2012 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. mickey1313

    people watch your kids, we should not alow people who cause medical problem thru stupidity to use public health insurance. Why should I pay because these people are crappy parents.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • RD

      “I think they do need to be pulled from the shelf probably" I am disgusted with the people in this country. All it takes is some tard to misuse a product and people want it banned for the other 99.9% of the community who use common sense. I wonder how long it will be before we completely ban fast food because a few people know what's best for everyone else.

      March 9, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralph M

      I have to agree. If children as old as the ones mentioned are swallowing things that they know are not food, there is not much society can do. The parents have failed in their responsibility to teach their children. People have got to stop blaming everyone else for their stupidity, and if they are that stupid – they should certainly not breed.

      March 10, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • jennifer

      I know many excellent parents who go to the bathroom, come out and a child has dumped out a box of cereal, broken something, etc. in the 30 seconds it took to pee. This is no different. It's a defense mechanism to assume this stuff only happens to 'bad parents' and that it can't happen to you. I can assure you that it can just as easily happen to you too!!!

      March 10, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Charly

      Brought to you by our friend RD from Buckyballs Inc.

      March 10, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Meki60

    that's because they did not purchase any Al Gore magnet credits, he is a broker for all things good that can go bad

    March 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jojo

    You have to be a MORON to eat that crap..... child or adult.... ;-(

    March 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Harry's Watching

      Yes you would. Because she's a kid nobody is mentioning that. Future short bus rider.

      March 10, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. jojo

    Great .. eat them just before you fly on a plane..... that will relieve your

    March 9, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • lala

      don't be jokeing jojo this is serious..

      March 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. anonemouse

    “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.

    UM, they come with plenty of clear warning, genius.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • david bird

      Parents just need to learn to be more responsible. To many parents lacking any form of intelligence or common sense are reproducing. Maybe we should start making people take IQ test and a test to see if you have any common sense.

      March 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JS

    This Vinnie guy makes me sick. How does a guy this talentless and clueless get on the air?

    March 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dana Bash

    Ewwwww. How gross.

    March 9, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lizzy

    Good grief!! Swallowing magnets for stress relief??? Sounds stupid at any age. How about exercise, less caffeine, green tea, and a glass or two of wine? How about doing something natural for yourself and actually reading a book instead of watching all those "stressful" movies? Go take a walk for pete's sake!!! Plant a garden... yeah, helping the planet might relieve your stress... come on, people. Most stress is self-induced.

    March 10, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • rls347

      Um. You don't swallow the magnets for stress relief. They are a desk toy for adults, you can mold them into different shapes.

      March 10, 2012 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • areuanidiot??

      the name says it all. Please don't ever have any children bc clearly you are idiotic enough to think you are supposed to eat the magnets.

      March 10, 2012 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
    • melisa

      lmao..yeah, u definitely don't swallow them either way. common misunderstanding i'm sure if you've never heard of them.

      March 10, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. P.J.

    Some kids are just incredibly dumb... in nature they were not meant to do well.

    March 10, 2012 at 4:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. Sadachbia

    WHY WOULD YOU SWALLOW THEM!?? If a kid is stupid enough to eat something that's obviously non-food and ends up injured, that's Darwinian selection giving the parents a great big neon sign.

    March 10, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ian

    I like how the girl almost put the magnets in her mouth again. Natural selection, I say.

    March 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
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