dr. kathryn bass

Magnet Ingestion Safety

May 7, 2020

After years off of the market because of the threat they posed, magnetic balls have returned with a vengeance. Commonly referred to as Buckyballs, the brand name is often used as an encompassing identifier for the small magnetic BBs that children and adults mold into sculptures. Unfortunately, the shiny, tiny pellets pose a terrifying threat to infants and toddlers, who are prone to swallowing them.

The hazardous pinches and tears that take place on their organs is life-threatening. When the very strong magnets come together inside a body, the soft tissues of a child don’t stand a chance. Dangerous infections can build up, and often result in emergency surgeries. The availability of these dangerous toys is a health hazard that is far too common for action not to be taken.

In 2013, the CPSC recalled high-powered magnetic balls.  The next year, CPSC finalized a safety standard to prevent the sale of these unsafe magnets. In the brief time that the high-powered magnet ban was in place, researchers found the frequency of pediatric ingestions, operations, and surgeries significantly decreased.  Courts vacated the CPSC standard and recall in 2015, allowing these magnets to pose an ongoing threat to children.

As you can see in this report, several emergencies took place in just a small community. Nationwide last year, there were close to 1600 cases of ingestion reported. This number represents a significant portion of that segment of the population – a completely preventable issue that is ravaging the most helpless of people.

The rash of reported emergencies has prompted legislative action on the federal level. In March, Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29) and Congresswoman Kim Schrier M.D. (WA-08) introduced the Magnet Injury Prevention Act. The bill would reenact the ban on such materials. It is the second attempt by Congress to take action; Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced a companion bill in the Senate last year.

Congressman Cárdenas spoke passionately on the topic. “One fatality is one too many. There is no reason that these dangerous small, high-powered magnets should be on the market or sold in toys,” he said. “As a grandfather, this is personal for me. We have an obligation to do all that we can to prevent life-threating toys from reaching the hands of children in America.”

Consumer protection agencies are on board, as well. “We applaud Representatives Cárdenas and Schrier for introducing the Magnet Injury Prevention Act,” stated Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel with Consumer Federation of America. “This bill will protect children from the hidden hazards and severe health consequences caused by swallowing more than one small high-powered magnet.”

Please consider reaching out to your representatives and let them know that you support this legislation. We need your help to save lives and prevent these awful, preventable occurrences. If you are unsure who to contact, you can use this website to find your representative and their contact information. This site will help you find your senator.

Together, we can make our voice be heard and make a difference.