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. miguel

    "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," says the perplexed mother.

    With all due respect to her, what idiocy. Magnets don't represent some sort unique threat to children's bowels (although reading the article, it's clear that once ingested, their properties create special complications) – they're dangerous, sure, not unlike thousands of other small metal objects you should keep out of a toddler's reach.

    Childproofing a home is a crazy-difficult task, yes, and the best parents make mistakes, but don't blame physics and magnetism for your error, lady. Be a more vigilant parent.

    March 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Allen

      Amen

      March 9, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • shawn L

      Exactly. Quite frankly its a little darwinism in effect.

      March 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • tuffy

      The parents need to put down the Bible and learn about basic science and childcare.

      March 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • ConvenienceForeverFreshnessNever

      Nothing to add. Said it best.

      Although I am pondering the effectiveness for strategic oral applications in war and population control.

      March 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      True – there presence in the house is not the main issue. There are likely to be hundreds of other items still in that house which could do far worse things, and removing them is not the answer.

      That said, I think the statement itself is just one of those things you say when a "freak accident" occurs in which there is some obvious way to avoid it (in hindsight). This is what came to mind when that 13 month old fell down a 30 foot well in a neighbors yard and died – yes, the parents were responsible for not watching, but there is *some* blame deserved by the neighbor who failed to take appropriate precautions with the hole. Here, they had nobody else to share it with, so they revert to this silly thing about not having it in their house...

      March 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    Wow – why is this an article on the front page of cnn? Magnets, or metal balls, or little things – don't leave them out for your kid or pet to eat. Kid-proof, puppy-proof your house.

    Are thumb-tacks okay to leave out? They are probably fine on the stomach.

    March 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yup

      Actually thumbtacks usually pass through the digestive tract without causing problems. No joke!

      March 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rtertyhdf

    Smart, the morns give the same exact magnets to the daughter again, and she almost eats them AGAIN. STUPID parents, really STUPID.

    March 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    Personal injury lawyers rejoice!

    March 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • gager

      The problem with lawyers is that the magnet maker will be sued when the parents are the ones that should be sued.

      March 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. no

    "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."

    Haha! DUH DUH DUH Darwin...

    March 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sam

    It's a sad state the world is in when we can have warning labels on magnets that tell you not to eat them, but people still eat them anyway, and then surgeons start demanding that we put warning labels on them...

    I would certainly not trust my child with Dr. Rothenberg.

    March 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Richard

    Any one who would swallow a magnet (child excused) is a complete idiot and deserves to have a large hospital bill

    March 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. humtake

    Just let Darwin do his damage and get rid of these idiots.

    March 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John1

    This is idiotic. This is the kind of BS that gets stuff pulled from stores for no reason. Like the Fourloco drink or whatever it was. I had never had it, but the fact that is was banned because of what 1 group of stupid kids did is infuriating. Don't put stuff where your kid can get it, or teach them not to eat random stuff off daddy's desk... My nephew ate a screw once, I know it happens.

    March 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • ConvenienceForeverFreshnessNever

      I tried a couple of different flavors to see what all the buzz was about (pun intended). That stuff was NASTY NASTY NASTY. I'm guessing the choice for cheap desperate people.

      March 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Veronica

    I'm really tired of parents not taking responsibility for their screw-ups. Own up to it and quit blaming someone else.

    COMMON SENSE PEOPLE! I don't care how "smart" or "curious" your think your kid is. EVERYONE thinks their kid is particularly smart or special.

    IT'S A THREE YEAR OLD.

    March 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kevin

    Really!? Your joking right !?

    Seriously, what other possible warnings can possibly display to warn of the dangers of swallowing magnets? This has to be the most moronic thing ever ! It is horribly depressing that someone has to sugest pulling a toy that was intended for mature consumers in the first place. Clearly the swallowable properties of magnets makes them prohibitively dangerous, no one should have them lol. Im getting a stress headache just reading this, and I may not have magnets to help me lol.

    March 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ALLCAPS

    These parents are complete idiots. The companies selling these powerful neodymium magnets have to include warnings on every package. These parents are simply not reading the warnings, and their children are suffering. Perhaps it's time to spend less time working and more time being a parent.

    March 9, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kevin

    Can someone *

    March 9, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cannondaler

    Just change the name to "Brocolli Balls" or "Brussel Sprout Balls".......kids won't touch them.

    March 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      ... or change it to schweaty balls, and you won't be able to find them any where!

      March 9, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ConvenienceForeverFreshnessNever

    Jesus didn't forbid the eating of magnets in the Bible.

    March 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suzanne

      Too funny.

      Toddlers you can understand but twelve and thirteen year-olds? They are old enough to be babysitting the toddlers. Dumb,

      March 9, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • tvjw03

      time to make the warning say not intended for children under 18 :-/

      March 10, 2012 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Christina

      Exactly. How does a 12 year old accidently swallow five magnets? Kids are getting incredibly stupid.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
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