July 25, 2012 — The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has filed a lawsuit to forcibly ban Buckyballs, Buckycubes, and similar desktop magnet toys.
This is the first time the CPSC has forcibly recalled a toy in 11 years. The agency has received dozens of reports of children and teenagers swallowing the small, round, high-powered magnets. In some cases, the magnets attach inside the stomach or bowels, causing intestinal perforation or obstruction. Many children who have swallowed the toys have required surgical removal of the magnets.
Buckyballs were responsible for at least twelve cases of children swallowing the magnets. The injuries mostly involved young children, but teenagers have also been injured. A few months ago, a 12 year-old girl swallowed four Buckyballs when she pretended that the magnets were tongue piercings. Two surgeries were necessary to remove the magnets, which were stuck in her intestines.
Major retailers, including Amazon, Urban Outfitters, and Brookstone have agreed to stop selling magnet toys. The manufacturer of Buckyballs has also been asked to refund customers who purchased the toys. They must also post a notice on their website informing people that the products are defective.
Maxfield & Oberton, the manufacturer of Buckyballs, has vowed to fight the CPSC action. In a press release, company officials wrote: “CPSC: Thank you for trying to drive a $50 million New York-based consumer product company out of business.” They do not manufacture any other toys and have sold millions of the products since 2009. The company asserts that the toys are not marketed toward children and the packages contain prominent warnings about the risk of injury.
Since the mid-2000s, the CPSC has taken aggressive action against toy manufacturers that sell products with loose magnets. The CPSC also forced recalls of Magnetix building blocks and similar sets due to the risk that magnet pieces in the children’s toys could detach.
The CPSC has taken multiple actions against the manufacturers of Buckyballs. The agency asked the company to voluntarily recall 175,000 sets because they were marketed to children aged 13 and up, when federal law prohibits marketing magnet toys to children under 14. The company updated the packaging on Buckyballs to include five prominent warnings. In 2011, the CPSC published a Safety Warning in an attempt to increase public awareness about the risk of swallowing Buckyballs. However, despite the efforts on both sides, the CPSC continued to receive reports of children swallowing the toys.
The CPSC finally decided to ban the products entirely, citing a “substantial product hazard.” The agency is concerned that the packaging isn’t childproof and parents are unlikely to put the toys back inside the packaging once they are opened. Because each set contains up to 200 small, round magnets, it is difficult for parents to determine when pieces have been lost. Furthermore, the CPSC said that the shiny, small, clicking toys were “intensely appealing to children.”
The last time the CPSC filed a lawsuit to force a recall was back in 2001, when the agency ordered a mandatory recall of BB guns from Daisy Manufacturing. The company appealed the agency’s decision, and the products were re-allowed on the market with prominent warnings on the box.
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