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Consumer safety panel sues magnetic toy maker

By Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Mon July 30, 2012
Meaghin Jordan's son Braylon swallowed magnets that traveled through his gastrointestinal system.
Meaghin Jordan's son Braylon swallowed magnets that traveled through his gastrointestinal system.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The CPSC is suing the makers of Buckyballs and Buckycubes
  • Millions of the high-powered magnets have been sold, the company says
  • It's an unusual move: The CPSC last sued a company 11 years ago
  • The magnets can cause holes in the intestines if ingested

(CNN) -- The Consumer Product Safety Commission is suing the maker of popular high-powered magnet "desk toys" to get them to stop selling their products, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.

The magnets can pierce holes in the intestines, and some children have needed multiple surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. Since 2009, there have been at least a dozen ingestions of the magnets in Buckyballs toys.

Powerful magnets in toys raise risks from swallowing

The commission asked the makers of Buckyballs and Buckycubes to stop selling their products, but they refused, according Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the federal agency.

"We're doing this to keep children safe," Wolfson said. "We want to prevent future surgeries."

A spokesman for Maxfield & Oberton, the maker of Buckyballs and Buckycubes, said the company "will fight this vigorously."

"There are half a billion magnets out there, and unfortunately there are some people who have misused the product," said Andrew Frank. "We market these products to adults age 14 and above, and there are warning labels on the product."

There are warning labels to keep the magnets away from children on five places on each box, and in accompanying instructions. A public awareness campaign about magnet safety with videos distributed by the government and a special website (www.magnetsafety.com) was launched several months ago, with the full cooperation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the company said.

The company's website also has warnings posted next to the images of the products.

"Obviously the bureaucrats see danger everywhere, and those responsible people -- like our company who have vigorously promoted safety and appropriate use of our products -- gets put out of business by an unfair and arbitrary process," said Craig Zucker, founder and CEO of Maxfield and Oberton. "I don't understand how and why they did this without following their own rules before allowing us to make our case. It almost seems like they simply wanted to put our products and industry out of business."

Magnetic stress relievers called health danger for kids

On Friday, Maxfield and Oberton launched a video campaign to help educate consumers about ongoing safety efforts, as well as "protest the actions of the Consumer Product Safety Commission," it said in a statement.

The video can be viewed on the company's website as well as the campaign website.

Since 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 200 reports of ingestion of magnets of all kinds, Wolfson said. The analysis released Wednesday showed more than 20 ingestions were of high-powered, "rare earth" magnets.

In June, pediatric gastroenterologists met with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and shared the results of an informal survey. Thirty-four physicians reported 82 cases of high-powered magnet ingestions, most in children under age five. Surgery was required in 26 cases to remove the magnets and nearly all required some type of endoscopy procedure.

"We have worked with the company over the years," Wolfson said. "We did a recall with them in 2010. Yet the injuries still happened. In 2011 we worked with them on the education of consumers. Incidents still happened. So we've reached a point where we really do need to take stronger action, which we're doing. We're filing a lawsuit."

Several retailers, including Amazon and Brookstone, have agreed to stop selling the magnets.

Buckyballs are a \'desk toy\' made up of many small magnets.
Buckyballs are a 'desk toy' made up of many small magnets.
Child swallows 37 magnets

The Consumer Product Safety Commission rarely files such administrative complaints -- the last time it did was 11 years ago against the maker of BB guns, Wolfson said.

"So many parents don't know about this hazard," Wolfson said. "They buy the products for themselves. Maybe their child gets access to it. Maybe they give it to their child.

"And the parents just need to know that two or more magnets are swallowed by a child, even a teenager -- we've had incidents with both young children and teenagers -- it can get caught in the small intestine, form an infection and then emergency surgery is needed. We want to avoid that."

Wolfson added that the agency is continuing to look at the safety of other brands of small, high-powered "rare earth" magnets.

Meaghin Jordan, whose son swallowed high-powered magnets, said she was "relieved" to hear about the complaint. When he was almost 2 years old, her son Braylon swallowed eight magnets and spent two months in the hospital, most of that time in intensive care.

"This is wonderful," she said. "I'm very glad they're taking action. If they can't sell them, then no one else can get hurt."

Mattel CEO: 'Rigorous standards' after massive toy recall

CNN's Karen Caifa contributed to this report.

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