Safety Agency Considers Ban on Tiny Magnets That Killed Child

Magnets became popular in Buckyballs, other desk toys

Little, powerful magnets of the kind that are found in desk toys and that killed a 19-month-old girl after she swallowed seven of them last year would be banned under proposed federal safety regulations.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is to vote on the prohibition later this month.

Its staff estimates that there were 2,900 emergency room visits from 2009 through 2013 for treatment after magnets were swallowed. Surgery is often required to remove magnets from the digestive system, the staff’s report says.

"It's like a gunshot wound to the gut but with no sign of entry or exit," a commission spokesman, Scott Wolfson, said.

The magnets were made popular in Buckyballs and other desk toys, which companies said were meant for adults but which safety advocates said posed a threat to children.

The little girl who died, Annaka Chaffin, was found unresponsive, bleeding from her mouth and nose, a day after she was diagnosed as likely having a virus, according to the report. The cause of death was found to be ischemic bowel due to the magnets.

She had swallowed magnets that made up a necklace her brothers brought home from school.

Her mother, Amber, has said she does not now how the infant got ahold of the magnets.

"Hopefully, it saves somebody who does have these and potentially could have small children around," said the child's aunt, Lisa Chaffin-Murphy of Columbus, Ohio.

She said her sister had no idea how dangerous the magnets could be.

CPSC staff is recommending that if a set of magnets contains one small enough to fit through a cylinder used to test for choking hazards, all of the magnets must fall below a certain strength. The danger is that the attraction of powerful magnets can cause them to perforate bowels or result in other damage.

Last October, pediatric gastroenterologists and consumer advocates urged the ban.

“High-powered magnets are not like other small foreign objects that children typically swallow,” said a 2013 statement from the Consumer Federation of America.

Endoscopic or surgical intervention was necessary nearly 80 percent of the time such a magnet was swallowed, the federation said. Typically endoscopic removal is needed in only 10 to 20 percent of the cases; surgery less than 1 percent, the federation said.

Magnet sets from Buckyballs and Star Networks were eventually recalled. Craig Zucker, a founder of the former distributor of Buckyballs, Maxfield and Oberton Holdings, initially fought the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but this year settled for $375,000.

Refunds are available for the Buckyballs and Buckycubes and for Magnicubes.

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