UPDATE: On Tuesday, Aug.17, federal regulators announced the recall of nearly 10 million high powered toy magnets – sold individually and in sets – distributed by Zen Magnets and Neoballs. The Consumer Product Safety Commission cited the danger to children who accidentally swallow them. Read details about the recall here: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2021/Zen-Magnets-and-Neoballs-Magnets-Recalled-Due-to-Ingestion-Hazard
The x-rays taken of Ed and Tina Scruggs’ daughter look almost fake. You can see the line of 18 magnet balls stuck in her digestive system after their 11-year-old accidentally swallowed them.
“I think she told me she was trying to do a tongue ring,” Ed Scruggs said.
Their daughter is one of thousands of kids who’ve wound up in the hospital after accidentally ingesting rare earth magnet balls. The injuries often require surgery to repair perforated intestines caused when the high-powered magnets clamp together.
The magnets are marketed as stress relieving toys for people over the age of 14. They can be as much as 10 times more powerful than typical magnets. Name brands include Buckyballs and Speks – though there are many kinds available on Amazon.
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The powerful magnets were once effectively banned by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. But a court overturned the ban in 2016, and in the years since injuries have once again skyrocketed.
The Scruggs say they rushed their daughter to the hospital. Doctors hoped she’d pass them naturally. But eventually, the magnets clamped in a circle – pinching her intestinal wall.
Months later, a painful surgery was needed to remove them.
“Knowing what’s happened to children kind of around the world, it’s stunning to me that they’re still on the market,” Scruggs said.
Dr. Jeff Louie at the U of M Masonic Children’s Hospital says magnets are one of the most dangerous things a child can swallow.
“It’s an extensive surgery,” Louie said.
So many kids have come into the hospital’s emergency department after ingesting the small brightly colored magnet balls, he says they’ve developed a whole system for treating the injuries.
“They may get separated and as they’re going through the GI – the intestines. One magnet is on the opposite side of the intestines and they click together,” Dr. Louie explained. If they perforate the intestines – or cause a blockage – surgery is often required.
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The CPSC says at least 4,500 children have been hospitalized in the last decade – an estimate a recent report says is very conservative.
Injuries in adolescents often stem from kids pretending the magnets are lip or tongue rings as the Scruggs’ daughter did.
Because of the severity of injuries, the agency effectively banned the magnet balls in 2012. The number of hospitalized kids dropped dramatically. But when a leading magnet maker sued and won, the ban was overturned in 2016. Almost immediately injuries began rising again.
Doctors are now calling for a new ban. The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition says “There is an urgent need for the CPSC to re-instate a strong safety standard that would effectively ban in the United States the sale of high-powered magnets.”
The CPSC is once again reviewing the issue, considering new rules that would require stronger warning labels and other restrictions on the toys.
In the meantime, with so many on the market, Dr. Louie has this warning: “As a parent myself, I would not let my child play with it.”