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. IndyNC

    Ahh stupid acts of stupid people...
    Hey, let's give a little kid tiny magnets to play with.

    Betcha in most cases the parents got them for themselves and the kids demanded on playing with them.

    I to don't "Buy" the 12 yo story... if she was emulating a piercing, why the hell did she have 5 of them in her mouth? She was being stupid and probably putting them on her tongue and playing around with them and someone dared her to swall them or something.

    Again... nothing wrong with the product... just the people.
    People don't think magnets are dangerous... I've seen them screw up old tube TVs and old CRTs because they thought the color changes where "cool" – then they got shocked when the funky colors didn't go away... yeah... you put a high power MAGNET next to a CRT?!?!?

    Looks like alot of people are getting painfull lesons in science.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |

    I weep openly for the human race.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Debo

    Who on earth would have their kids swallow magnets?!

    March 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duke

      Strain your imagination here – the parents were not aware.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      It wasn't intentional, Dumbo, just lack of adult responsibility.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brian Foster

    I never thought I'd hear this kind of story happening outside of America

    March 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duke

      Well it does. Stuff happens all over the world.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. aj

    Liberals always want to ban the product instead of the stupid parents not watching their kids. It's always someone else's fault huh?

    March 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • jb

      You just want to blame liberals. Stupid product, Stupid parents, Stupid kids.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      yeah because being worried about safety is such a silly stance.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beth

      Huh? Who said anything about liberals? I believe that the only person in the story who suggested pulling the magnets from the shelves was a pediatric surgeon (the guy who has to piece those intestines back together, so I guess I under stand his particular point of view).

      March 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Yes, life just wouldn't be the same without Buckyballs!

      Seriously, I really don't think the message of the article (liberal or otherwise) is to ban them. Rather, these innocuous looking magnets need to be treated like Drano around kids. There's lots of people who don't realize these powerful little magnets will perforate innards when they join up inside someone.

      I took the article to be informative more than a statement of political ideology.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lee Pierce

      Oh well, Libs and Cons have worse. Look at Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. They managed to make it all the way to adulthood and nothing got them.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      If I want to ban stupid parents, does that make me a conservative? No, I guess not – they have their own special kind of stupid that I just can't qualify for.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |

    I sometimes fart in my sleep.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dikran

    Yeah any time this happens to a kid it's not a good thing but I just saw these at Brookstone and on the box it says THIS IS NOT A TOY AND IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED.

    So now if they buy this they are just plain stupid or retarded and should not complain....what ever happened to individual responsibility.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ellen in CA

    My daughter grew up to be a very intelligent and successful person. When she was a toddler, she tried to eat dirt. I had to watch her like a hawk when we were outside. I have learned years later when a child does this, he/she is lacking something in their diet. Probably some tests would have revealed what it was. My own opinion is when a toddler eats something odd it is because he/she has not yet learned the difference between actual foods and non foods. That is where the parent or guardian comes in with constant teaching. We are our children's first teachers!

    March 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • PoBoy

      You learned that reading a book? I could have saved you some $$$ and just told you to watch your child and especially what he/she puts in their mouth.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike B

    How do magnets work?

    March 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      Don't ask the members of the insane clown posse. They have no clue.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • BBoy

      I hope you're not any older than about 7!

      March 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Okay BBoy, without Googling it, let's hear your explanation of how magnets work. I'm assuming you're older than seven.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rbnlegnd

      Magnets are full of science. When one magnet gets close to another magnet, the science in the magnets wants to be close to the science in the other magnet, and they try to rush towards each other. It's pretty simple really.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood


      March 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Bob

    The fact that small magnets are dangerous for children is not a new discovery. This is purely the failure of the parents.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lee Pierce

    I would like the statistic on how many kids swallow change each year and how many go to the hospital as a result. I have noticed that in no place on the nickel or quarter will one find child safety warnings. Point is, when a kid sticks things in their mouth and hurts themselves, a parent will be understandably upset. Vigilant or not small kids do this kind of thing and end up hurt. If you are lucky you catch them before they get hurt but sometimes they manage to do so no matter how hard an adult tries.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Since coins are not magnetic and don't attract to each other, and don't have any sharp edges, the harm from swallowing a coin is minimal. Usually just passes through with no problem. Worrywarts are the ones who take their kids to the hospital for swallowing a round, non-magnetic, non-sharp object. Just give the kid some Raisin Bran, and everything will come out fine.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Plus, the acids in the digestive system give the coins some new and lovely colors. (Yep, this happened in my family.)

      March 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chelsea

    The last paragraph says everything I needed to know about the parents...

    March 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • PoBoy

      You hit the nail right on the head. They're idiots!

      March 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. SP00N MAN

    I don't care how many warnings you put on it, if the product is useless and potentially hazardous, take it off the market. Sorry to break this to you new age nature nuts, but magnets DO NOT reduce stress. The only thing this company does for you is relieve you of your money and have a good laugh at your expense.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Dude, it's not the magnetism that reduces stress. It's playing with the magnets and making pretty shapes. Kind of like an etch-a-sketch, but three dimensional. Get it now?

      March 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SnappinTurtle

    Unless the 12 year old is mentally challenged her story is simply not credible. I can see trying that trick and accidentally swallowing one, but not 5. There is more to that story.

    The 3 year gets a "young and dumb" pass and I realize parents cannot watch a kid 24 hrs a day, but the statement about not knowing the danger is stupid. Aren't parents supposed to know anything that can fit inside a toilet paper tube can go down a kid’s throat. Magnet, clothespin, or doll shoe, it doesn't matter. It was an accident; accept it, be grateful she is alive and stop blaming someone else. I choked to the point of my lips turning blue on a piece of cantaloupe when I was around six. My grandpa was upset, but he didn’t blame God for growing for it.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lokari

    “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,” - Dr. Stephen Rothenberg

    If we're going to start pulling products because a couple of kids get injured by them each year, then we're going to have a stores with a lot of empty shelves. Just about anything can be dangerous if used incorrectly. These products already carry strict warnings – which some consumers are ignoring.

    Frankly, if you put a live rattlesnake in a box with flashing red lights and the warning "This will kill you if you touch it" in day-glo orange letters all over the outside, there are plenty of people who would still stick their hands in it.

    Consumers do need protection from unsafe products. We do not need protected from products that are perfectly safe unless used in a totally inappropriate manner despite numerous printed warnings. No amount of protection will save dumb people from being dumb.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Bob

      Look at the warnings on a chainsaw sometime "Don't stop chain with hands". This is how stupid people really are.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
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