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. Mike in Jacksonville, Fl

    Just looking at the X-ray brings a whole new meaning to Johnny Cash's song "Ring of Fire." Glad the child is recovering and doing better.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kat Fud

    Indeed, ICP wants you to know.

    Had the parent learned to read, she would have seen the warning. And if she had a brain in her crack addled head, she would have kept ALL small objects away from her child. That's the mother's job. Blaming the magnets that SHE allowed in her house is just ridiculous. But that's what Insane Clown Posse is all about- magnet education. If I didn't think they'd swallow it I'd put them up for a medal.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michael Goike

    You will never be able to protect the ignorant and lazy parent as well as the stupid teenager from all things that will harm their children and themselves. I have a toaster that has a warning label on it that remins the user "Not To Use This Electric Device In The Bathtub". Sooner or later you have to let nature take it's course and just claim the weak, stupid or moronic ones who do everyting in their power to hurt and kill themselves. We need more "Darwin Award" candidates!!!!!

    March 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • longtooth

      I bought a lawnmower that warned, "Do not use in a grassy area due to risk of fire".

      March 9, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Larry

    This is just like an episode of Grey's Anatomy when a kid swallowed a bunch of magnets.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LiZ305

    Its a parents responsibility to watch their children. Hazardous objects should always be kept up and away from curious little fingers and mouths. What do you expect a child to do?

    March 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    I would blame the parents for being ignorant and not thinking common sense. It's there fault a child does not know whats all right and wrong. It's sad to think that these kids came close to death because of the lack of responsiblility in there household.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      It's "their," not "there." How did you graduate?

      March 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. colorado_chris

    Seriously CNN, please stop trying to make idiots look like victims. I've got two small kids, and there ain't a thing in their room that they can swallow. This article makes me want to go buy some buckeyballs, just because their sales are going to drop and people will probably lose their jobs because of it. Nice job, CNN.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. You FOOL!

    How about parents do their job as parents? Then this would not be an issue. If you let your kid swallow these your kids should be taken from you and you should be sterilized. There is no hope for you.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ELH

    Just a matter of time before the Nanny State legislates these out of existence. In the meantime, countless hundreds of children will be killed or terribly injured by abusive parents or siblings. Not to mention those who will die in auto accidents because they were not in a car seat. Or those that die because they drank a household chemical that the moronic parents left accessible. Or those that drown while bathing unattended or fall into the neighbor's swimming pool. Daddy's home protection pistol in the nightstand will account for about a dozen tragedies this year. Playground equipment injures thousands of children annually.

    "In 1999, an estimated 205,850 playground equipment-related injuries were treated in
    U.S. hospital emergency rooms." 2001 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report.

    But, lets knee-jerk about this horrid epidemic of magnet-swallowing because it makes good press.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      One problem with your arguement – these magnets are completely useless. They are just snake oil, sold to stupid people, like those Q-ray bracelets. The other products you are talking about do, in fact, have some use.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam

      BOMBO - You are wrong, they do serve a purpose; they are fun to play with. I have a set and mess around with them all the time. I don't expect some magical power to heal me or something and they promise nothing of the sort. They are toys for adults, and good ones at that.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lokari

      Bombo – this article isn't about the "NASA-inspired magnet healing bracelet" products. Those, I agree, are snake oil. But this article is discussing a toy comprised of a bunch of small, powerful magnets. The toy part is that they can be arranged into all manner of cool shapes. So, not just adult toys, but adult geek toys.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    Every time I enjoy a magnet snack I make sure they are either all N or all S and I never have an issue.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. andy

    There is no warning or regulation to prevent stupid kids and stupid parents. Survival of the fittest. If you kid eats something other than food, and you aren't around- well, there's Darwinism for you. Hey kids: Don't eat stupid crap.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BOMBO ©

    Well, the parents were stupid enough to think that tiny, powerful magnets would have some health benefit. What level of intelligence can we expect from their children?

    March 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rbnlegnd

      The irony is that you are calling the parents stupid, when you totally misunderstand how to operate toy magnets.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Please read the article again. Nothing implies that these magnets were for any type of health-related treatment. The "stress relief" part of it comes from playing with the darn things.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    I see a few perfect people have joined us – you know, the ones who whine "the parents should have read this, the parents should have read that." I'm so happy for you that you make no mistakes. What's that, people can't stand you because you're so arrogant? Oh, yeah, being arrogant is your choice – had nothing to do with your miserable up bringing. Anyway, you don't mind if people hate you because you are arrogant by choice so it's not a mistake. Oh, you perfect people. So glad you're not in my life.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Awww, Bob, do you need a hug?

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

      If you're too stupid to realize that some tiny little ball that you thought was going to somehow relieve stress in the first place wasn't a marketing gimic and a complete con, then maybe it's best if you don't reproduce, let alone have them lying around for your children to eat. .

      March 9, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy Maddy

      I've been accused of arrogance, and even conceipt. But those are flaws, and I don't have any!

      March 9, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Bob

      Havent we all made mistakes in life? I remeber one day I left my child in the garage with the door closed and the car on next to a running chain saw with a nail gun propped against the table being held up by a plugged in iron with an open gallon of lead paint on top. I even left the lights on with the frayed end of a wire dangling just above a small pool of water. Just an innocent mistake and what could really happen if you took your eyes off of your own kid for just a minute or two?

      March 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I don't think that's a true story "the bob". Believe me, I've done my fair share of balancing open lead paint cans on blazing hot irons but I've never left my car running in the garage with the door closed. That's just too irresponsible and sounds like an embellishment to me....

      March 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JG

    Pulled from the shelves? Might as well pull paper clips, thumb tacks, x-acto blades, marbles, LEGOs, nuts & bolts, staples, and any other small object along with it that can do harm if a stupid kid happens to swallow...

    March 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • SP00N MAN

      Okay, I'm going to put a sharp dagger on the market, and make an outlandish claim about how it will organically give you more good energy and eliminate toxic energy from your system, if you just hold it gently against your wrist for only 5 minutes per day, with absolutely no proof to back it up. I'll call it the "Samurai Stick" and put a warning on the box that sharp objects can be dangerous for children. Should I then be absolved of any responsibility when people get hurt or killed by it?

      March 9, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • longtooth

      I guess we need to make a list of all things dangerous to a child, and all things dangerous if misused, and ban them. That will leave us with pillows and giant marshmallows.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rich Gerhold

    They don't need to come off the shelf, parents need to stop being idiots and putting stuff in harms way of their child. People need to stop being so f'ing stupid.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • chardbres

      Seriously, it's amazing to me. As soon as a product causes and harm it's "who is responsible for this?" Couldn't possibly be actual misuse...

      March 9, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcia Cross

      Good luck with all of that my good man.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
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