The Consumer Product Safety Commission heard testimony today about removing powerful and small magnetic balls — like Buckyballs — off the market forever. The CPSC claims the toys pose “an unreasonable risk of injury” to children and teens.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission staff estimates that between 2009 and 2011, at least 1,700 children were taken to the emergency room after ingesting the magnets, with many requiring surgery. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the balls can pull together inside the child’s digestive system, resulting in intestinal wounds that the agency has described as like “a gun shot wound to the gut with no sign of entry or exit.”
I don’t know what compels a child to put something in their ear, up their nose or in their mouth. I never did anything like it as a child and, so far, my four-year-old has never attempted anything like that either. My two-year-old, however, is a little more daring. She came running into me one day — face lit up with pride — and announced she had fit a Cheerio up her nose. Now, of all the objects she could have chosen, I was thrilled it was a little round circle of whole grain and not a super magnet ball. First, I knew she could breathe. Second, although she wouldn’t like it, I could inject water up her nose and soften the Cheerio until it went up or down. My husband immediately offered to press his hand into her nostril until it crumbled. Despite our quick thinking potential solutions in water-boarding or punching her in the nose, all that was needed was a pair of tweezers (I stuck one end in the middle of the hole) and the Cheerio was freed. I’m hoping she was traumatized enough to never try again, but I’m not banking on it. Do two-year-olds really ever learn their lesson? Mmmmm, probably not. And I’m definitely not willing to take the risk by allowing these super magnet balls in my house.
“They’re relatively innocuous-looking products, but they can cause a lot of damage to kids’ intestines if swallowed,” said Dr. Bryan Rudolph, an assistant professor of pediatric gastroenterology at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, part of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
If swallowed, the balls can pull the intestines into loops, punch holes in the intestines, and cause abscesses and infections in internal organs, Rudolph said. Incidents reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission include a 23-month-old who swallowed eight such magnets from a magnetic puzzle and ended up having a large part of his small intestine removed.
Craig Zucker, the founder of Buckyballs, has taken the most heat for the injuries suffered by kids swallowing magnets, becoming the face of the problem and the target of dozens of lawsuits. In response, he has created Liberty Balls, to free him of the mounds of legal costs, and in an ironic twist Liberty Balls are being praised since they are too big to be swallowed — and inflict the same kind of damage as a gun shot wound to the abdomen.