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. robert

    hell i would just use her on the fridge to hold notes,pics and recipes. idiot child.

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

      The "idiot child" is 3. Now stop acting like a "idiot blogger".

      March 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • AreWeTherYet

      Or maybe the idiot child he refers to is the 12 year old.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rufoscoe

    Why on Gods green earth would humans want to swallow magnets at all? Is there any medical evidence for the efficacy of this? It looks like it's all just potential downside, i.e. They don't do a thing for you, and could actually rip your guts up. It's bad enough that there's still these snake oil sales companies out there preying on the community, it's just really sad that someone would put something in their body like this just because it's available.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ally

      If you go to the company's website it has three (YES three!) separte warning lables that they're not for kids. And that they are not intended to be swallowed. It's a stress relief method where you move the balls around into shapes. Like the stress-squeeze toys. Not a snakeoil company.

      March 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rbnlegnd

      Have you ever encountered a child? They put anything and everything in their mouths, and swallow them. Pennies don't even have warning labels, but go ask your friendly ER doctor how many kids he has treated who have swallowed pennies. Or gotten them lodged in their sinuses.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Please go back and review the article. The magnets were never intended to be swallowed for any reason. It appears that you think they are supposed to be some kind of new age panacea. Please try reading the entire article. Stress relief is provided, for adults, by "playing" with the magnets and making nifty shapes.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DannyB

    Do not take product of the shelf idiots... Almost everything will destroy your kids intestines if they swallow it. How about watch your kids.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Zini

    Does anyone see the irony that they are interviewing the parents and child while she plays with Battleship pieces??!? (Ages7+ on the Toys-R-Us website)

    March 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Todes

    amazing...in the first part of the video, it shows the child playing with Battleship game pieces...which are a choking hazard...There really should be a requirement to get a license to have kids...

    March 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mamabear

    what the heck do people teach, or not teach their kids? i raised 3 rambunctious boys and none would have ever put anything in their mouths as they were taught not to. and when they were too young to know yet, mama watched them to make sure they didn't. things were kept out of reach that could harm them. but, like we say at the jail where i work and where many stupid people are employed, "you can't fix stupid"

    March 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snazzy

      Children put things in their mouth all the time. This is not the result of bad parenting. The only thing I get out of your comment is that you're trying to come off like Mother of the Year. And actually, it's Ron White who coined the term "you can't fix stupid". You all just stole it

      March 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RandomOne

    The last paragraph of the story tells it all – parents aren't paying attention to what their little kids are doing, even right in front of their faces.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. TCPDump-npi

    Gee, if only society would watch MYkids for me. Give me a break, YOUR kid gets injured because YOU or THEM are way to stupid to read the label {like the teenagers} then it is YOUR responsibility not mine. And if I want something I should not be limited in what I can buy because of YOUR stupidity.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. longtooth

    There's no cure for carelessness and stupidity. As a loving parent of four, I know all you can do is pay attention and worry your butt off.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. David M

    Riiiight. So it's a scientific fact that swallowing magnets will relieve stress?? Who make up this stuff?

    March 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zini

      What are you talking about?

      March 9, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ally

      They aren't suppsed to be swallowed. You move them around into shapes as a stress relieving diversion. I do agree that the article was poorly written in that respect...I had to google the product to see what it was for.

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

      The magnets are for shaping/playing with, like any other stupid desk toy.

      They are not for eating.

      Though in retrospect, you demonstrate clearly how explicitly these things need to be labelled.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rbnlegnd

      Who makes this stuff up? You do. The magnets are sold as desk toys, not as something you eat. It's a wonder you were able to figure out how to work the chair, much less the computer.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • shootmyownfood

      Dude, your reading comprehensionis abysmal. Nowhere does it state that swallowing magnets relieves stress. Playing with them and making pretty shapes is supposed to be stress-relieving, but not swallowing them. Try again!

      March 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. angel611

    It could have been nails, bullets, birth control pills, rat poison pellets, or anything the kid could get her hands on, and fit in her mouth.
    Stupid parents.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Feast of Beast

    Don't let your kids swallow foreign objects and there won't be any problems. Common sense and supervision are great concepts. Try them.

    March 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Glades2

    These so-called "harried parents" should be put on record as having forced their children to swallow something like that – also known as child abuse...

    March 9, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. lynne

    Now, I don't have kids, but I am a LITTLE upset by the hateful comments about parents. I grew up with fantastic parents that were present, kind, fair and responsible. They raised my brothers and I to be intelligent, competent people in this world. With that said... my younger brother got a pea stuck in his ear, I swallowed 2 marbles and my older brother busted his chin open on a doorway chin up bar during our tenure as children.

    No parent can watch every move their children make 100 percent of the time. Even things out of reach have a way of getting found by little hands. Even things children have been told not to touch, they will. Even vigilant parents can miss something. Accidents happen, and the only different between my marble incident, which ended up being harmless and these is that they were magnetized.

    Please stop and consider for just a moment that parents are human beings, not omniscient creatures. Things go wrong. I am sure these are parents who love their kids, just as my two wonderful parents loved me. Who among us never did anything stupid when we were kids, even if we had good parents? Come on now, let's not be so judgmental.

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

      In general I agree with you. But in this case, during the interview the 3 year old can be seen playing with Battleship pieces (not for her age) and she manages to start playing with the magnets AGAIN. Not a very good impression for those parents in particular.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. G D

    IWith or without "adequate" warnings, whose responsibility is this really? If your kid ate rocks containing poisonous minerals, would you blame the creator of the Earth or the great Buzz in the sky? The U.S. needs to be more Euro in this regard. It's our responsibility to not do stupid things, and if we do, well the fault is our own. I don't sue the hammer when I smash & lose a thumbnail!

    March 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Summer819

      Couldn't agree more.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • yukisobe

      well Said!

      March 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
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