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. Wombat

    The website is literally covered in warnings, and I know for a fact that most stores do sell them from behind the counter at the behest of the company (the signage in stores is company-printed).

    They are more than doing their part, unlike the parents who gave the magnets already taken out of her stomach BACK to the three year old (I don't care if the TV man asked you to, the word is NO, use it) and almost let her eat them again.

    Wine is an adult-only product too, does that mean that no one with kids can have it in the house? No, it means you keep it in a cabinet out of reach and keep an eye on your glass when you have it out.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Annexian

    How many kids will be FED these due to this article?

    Really, remember the "Cabbage Patch Snack Time" doll? The hair eater. There was ONE incident. Then, next day TWENTY...

    Shall we ban hammers because someone (for REAL) used one to commit suicide, along with a power drill?

    Really, I'm driving to work, I see kids playing in the middle of the street, riding a bicycle and just suddenly dumping in front of cars. I think they (or their PARENTS) subconsciously WANT them killed so they can sue the driver, the city, and be pitied...

    March 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Logical Centrist

      I had a similar incident with kids riding unregistered 4×4's in the street, in the snow, with the father standing there with them. The father is a fireman, and town constable but he was seeing dollar signs for sure. Stupid stupid stupid.

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

      "Shall we ban hammers because someone (for REAL) used one to commit suicide, along with a power drill?"
      No... because hammers are real world tools for real world applications.
      Buckyballs, et al. are quackery- manufactured to con gullible people out of their money- AND ARE DANGEROUS.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve M

      How is this "quackery"? These are not sold as medical devices or new age healing items. These are sold as magnets that create nifty shapes, and as stress relievers (like squeeze balls).
      We could solve this if we could only ban stupid people!

      March 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Synapse

      Steve-How??? By claiming that these "calm" [tranquilize / alter the mood of] those who use them.
      And gluten negatively affects everyone's health... And claims [disproven scientifically] that inoculations against life-threatening diseases cause autism in children. PSEUDO SCIENCE.

      March 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kurtinco

    Why would you willing swallow multiple magnets you can barely pull apart with your fingers let along give them to your children. Jeez, I am sick of stupid people. Am I the only that thinks it's time to "decrease the surplus population"??!!??

    March 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Magnets; how do they work?

    March 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • mgee

      Just put a bit of salt and pepper on them, and pop 'em in your mouth.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Truth

      1) Ingest
      2) ???
      3) Profit

      March 9, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ally

    Wow. I just went to the website and besides 3 separate warnings on each page they also have a separate tab labeled "safety". AND when you put in information to buy them you have to check a statement that says 'you agree that you understand this product must be kept away from children and that magnets are never to be swallowed because it could cause serious intestinal injury' BEFORE it processes your order.

    I'd say they're doing all they can to make sure parents know they're not for kids.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. The Logical Centrist

    Another case of America dumbing down. Not for nothing, the Republicans love the fact that many people are so dumb.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jonathan

    You have to TOLD not to give your kids powerful magnets as snacks? Really? And here I've been living life on the edge. We usually picnic with a stator as a main course.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    So tired of hearing "safety risk". Don't eat them!!! It's that simple. Gasoline is a "safety risk" if someone drinks it. Don't drink it. Everything is a safety risk, that does not mean everything needs to be banned because a child might eat or drink it.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CJA

    Farmers feed one magnet to each cow and it actually helps them. Goolge "cow magnet".

    March 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • What?

      That explains why the milk sticks to the fridge.

      March 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    But on a positive note, her balance has never been better.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cindy

    "This unfortunate incident underscores the fact that Buckyballs and Buckycubes are for adults. They are not toys and are not intended for children."

    All injuries and deaths to children are because of stupid, irresponsible parents.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. prissy

    Kids suck and I hope they all die.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • What?

      Well infants do suck on their thumbs and they will all die at some point.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ameer Mussawwir

    If kids all died off there would be no peole also buckballs are meant for adults so it is the parents fault because they didn't lock those things down

    March 9, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James.Storm

    What kinda !diot child would swallow magnets anyway? They better be under the age of 5 or we can sum them up to being retarded

    March 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • abdulla oblongata

      Spoken by an idiot who has never heard of a gobstopper, gumball, or M&M. Kids equate round shiny hard objects as candy. Were you ever a kid, or were you only hatched from a hard, shiny egg?

      March 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Remedial Reader

      "A 3-year-old girl had emergency surgery after 37 of them perforated her stomach and intestines."

      Maybe you didn't get past the headline to read the first sentence of the article.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Remedial Reader

      Holding out hope that you won't be breeding.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sasha

      Don't blame the child. Blame the adults that shouldn't have left these laying around! These "magnets" look like cute little candies to a child, so I shouldn't surprise anyone who knows anything about children that a 3 yr old wouldn't know better.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Glenn

    What's with these idiots giving her access to "Battleship" in the video? More small pieces to swallow. Check the label for choking hazards and use your brains, people !!!

    March 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
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