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. 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 ret@rded

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

    In other news, knives can kill if penetrated through your abdomen. Film at 11.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. cor

    "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,"

    BS!!! I have 2 packages of Bucky Balls. Before opening them, I had to go through 3 different safety seals containing the warnings that "THESE WILL KILL YOUR CHILDREN IF DIGESTED!!!" before even getting to them, And even THEN, there is still a warning on the main package clear as day.

    A relative recently bought them for my kids (ages 10 and 6) for Christmas and I immediately took them and took them out of the house, KNOWING from the product packaging how dangerous they are. I'm sad to hear about what's happened to these kids, but the companies that make them should not have to pay one red cent for parents' stupidity!

    March 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      Nothing wrong with the magnets but plenty wrong with the people.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Poolchick

    So many people without common sense. Makes you wonder who will be running the country in 20 yrs and if they will actually use their brain.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. sumguy

    I can't get my kids to eat Carrots, but these kids eat magnets?
    I can almost understand the 3 year old, but the 12 year old must have a disability?

    March 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • ElvisinTucson

      Oh, sumguy. We may be on the brink of a huge discovery.

      Let's figure out how to manufacture and package carrots so they look like these idiotic magnets. You and I will be on next year's billionaires list.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Robert

    I get so tired of the kooky things being developed these days. I'd give anything to live back in the good old days--doesn't matter if it was 1850 or 1950--just so we had some normalcy in our society.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • yeeaaahhhh....

      man, thank god for the recent development and discovery of magnets. How did we ever get along without them?

      March 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. AreWeTherYet

    WHERE are the parents when 3 year olds are swallowing these things? As for the 13 year old.... um... some testing is probably in order. Just sayin... at 13, if you don't know that swallowing magnets is bad, you needs some special schooling.

    The warnings are on the package. Negligent parents and/or mentally deficient teenagers are the problem I see in this article.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jj

    maybe the parents should be more attentive rather then blaming a product which is tiny enough for a child to swallow. It is common for children to swallow small things. Anything small like that is a health danger when parents don't keep track of clutter or there children. Negligence is the only danger here, if it wasn't a magnet then it could have been something else like a shard of glass.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • KLDGBB

      No doubt – it had to have taken a pretty long time for the child to eat 37 magnets.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • ElvisinTucson

      Oh, yes. I recall the good old days when I was 13 and eating shards of glass as soon as my parents' backs were turned.

      Stupid products, stupid consumers, and stupid parents have overtaken our planet.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. What?

    How do you separate your kid from that sheet metal? And from the fridge and car?

    March 9, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Aerik

    Whoa whoa whoa.

    > The magnets are sold under the brand names Buckyballs and Nanospheres among others.

    This paragraph leaves a lot out of this. The companies that manufacture and originally sell these magnets market them as adult toys of a scientific variety. You can't just name them to glibly, allowing users to think that they are responsible. This is journalisticly irresponsible writing, and should anybody try to sue BuckyBalls or Zen Magnets or NanoSphere parent companies because of this statement, I think you, cnn, should be held liable for the misinformation.

    What's happened here is that scam artists are buying these magnets, taking them out of their packaging, and then re-selling them marketed as woo-woo products.

    March 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. lara336

    Is this a joke? "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" So their extreme lapse in parenting has not only almost caused her death not once but twice? She almost dies from these magnets, but then they give her the unscrewable bottle that contains them and she almost swallows them again?

    March 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • KLDGBB

      Yes, and in the video she is playing with the little red and white plastic Battleship game pieces where are also not appropriate for a three year old.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jeffery

    Tell me why a 3 year old had 37 magnets to start with,and furthermore it sounds like child neglect.They had the nerve to come on tv and let the child start trying to eat them again.Sounds like to me the parents has some type of mental problem...

    March 9, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. marko

    All I see here is Darwinism at work. A 12-year-old swallowing magnets is trying to remove themselves from the gene pool.

    March 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      wiser than we think. I doubt it is the case...likely an unstable child...with questionable parents.

      March 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. DynamoDave

    It's the law of the jungle, folks. Those less fit to survive- die. Sometimes that is the result of having a stupid parent (like a domestic turkey)- sometimes it's a result of having a stupid kid (like a domestic chick)- and sometimes it is both. It is very sad these tragedies occur to begin with- but if you are a parent who receives multiple product warnings that something can kill a stupid kid- then if you have a stupid kid, you throw it away. Conversely, if your stupid parent does not throw it away, you, as a smart kid does- thereby protecting your stupid siblings. If all of you are stupid- then go get a sitcom on network television....

    March 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Choke

    Not surprising that the same parents stupid enough to buy magnetic 'stress relievers' would be stupid enough to let their three year old gain access to them.

    March 9, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • MandoZink

      At least the stress relief method they are intended is somewhat legitimate, as they are intended to keep your hands occupied, which I suppose can "bleed off" stress. Sort of like chewing gum keeps your mouth busy. What is really bogus is the magnetic bracelets and shoe items, which are placebos at best, moneymaking scams at worst. A static magnetic field has no curative properties, other than the miracle of feeling good about it. Double blind tests have proven both.
      On the other hand, electromagnets, which have a dynamic field, are effective in certain medical case to both relieve pain and encourage some healing after surgery. Unfortunately, I know some folks who believe in the bogus magnets and even sell them. They are nice and sincere people, unfortunately less intellectual, but determined to be spiritual. Spirituality really should include critical thinking for best results. Oh well. Placebos are effective and so is prayer in that way. Both are mental floss.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
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