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. Kevin

    I also hear that knives can cut you. Please don't leave them unattended with your children.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick in Boston

      Thanks for the tip, Kevin. I just hope parents see your warning. Imagine the future if they don't... lol

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

      Right??
      Guns, too.

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

      I heard matches can cause fire and burn. Don't leave them unattended around children.

      However ....... wouldn't all of this fall under the terms: "Personal Responsibility" and "Proper Parenting"?

      March 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      We forgot the sarcasm font.
      Sorry.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Bob

      Is it ok to swallow knives?

      March 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    My granndaughter could find the tiniest piece of whatever, and it's in her mouth so fast, she's like a stealth ninja.
    I have to keep up constant vigilance.

    I agree; it's not the product, it's the people.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GvilleT

    I can see the little kids swallowing the pea sized magnets, but I don't buy the 12 year old accidentally swallowing them. I don't care that she had them in her mouth pretending anything. I have a 10 year old. They just don't "accidentally" swallow something. Both my kids put EVERYTHING in their mouths when they were little. Therefore, I kept EVERYTHING away from them they could swallow and when we were at someone else's house (even g-mas), we would do a clean sweep when we walked in the door and/or kept a continuous eye on them. Everything that size should be kept away from small children...not just magnets. Why can't people just be responsible for their own selves, children, whatever...quit blaming others for your momentary lapse of responsibility.

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

      I don't think it's a momentary lapse – it appears to be a permanent condition.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Gina

    So the parents are on TV with the 3-year old and the child unscrews the cap and starts playing with the magnets – again. Good thing the dad took them away from her, or they could have had a repeat of the whole thing right there on live TV – hopefully, they won't let her anywhere near those magnets again!

    March 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mgee

    My kid swallowed a bunch of these things, so now when I want to find him , I just wave a piece of sheet metal, and presto, there he is.

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

      LOL! That made me smile! THANKS!

      March 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. saywhat

    @ banasy
    Oh so true. With two grand kids of our own I have seen this 'stealth ninja' phenomenon. With small children constant vigilence is not optional.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. vetri

    So the parents were sleeping while the kids was eating magnets? Also those magnets are not for kids below 8 yrs age.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Or, according to the story, 12 year olds, either.

      March 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. GBG

    So much for personal responsibility. Stairs are dangerous for children so they are no longer allowed to be built in houses.

    It's called parenting. If more people with kids would actually attempt it, the world would be a better and safer place.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob A. Booey

    The kids are easy to find, they're stuck to the refrigerator.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ian

    That is why you got to watch your children. This people are careless idiots, there is a law against this. If your kid needs surgery because you didn't do your job as a parent, they should be taken away from you, and you should be in jail for facilitating it! But again, jails would be full because there are so many people not caring enough!

    March 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. If you ingest

    something called "Buckyballs" you deserve what you get. Parent's who buy such a product deserve something worse.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Buckminster Fuller is rolling over . . .

      March 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rick santorumtwit... America's favorite frothy mix

    I slipped on some frothy mix one time and almost broke my neck !

    March 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. banasy©

    Doodling.
    It works.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Danno

    "...he 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."

    Kids are stupid. Observable scientific fact.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      So is everybody who were observing her almost doing it *again*.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Yep, blame the kid (toddler!) for her parents' stupidity. The poor little thing probably didn't make the connection with eating the magnets and having to get surgery – after all, she is just 3. And with those parents, probably not a "gifted" child.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bates

    ""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."

    So what could they possibly expect to happen to anyone who swallows metal? That is just a stupid statement.

    March 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duke

      Non-magnets just pass ... kids have swallowed pennies forever and usually there is no complications.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
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