Magnets on toys, clothes and other household items pose a serious risk to children who might swallow them. Products with magnets have been the subject of numerous recalls largely based on the possibility that children will ingest the magnets. The Consumer Products Safety Commission reports roughly 200 such cases since 2008. Once swallowed, the magnets clump together and can tear through intestines and cause significant damage, even death, in the young victims.
In a presentation to the CPSC, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans explained that some of the magnets, including those used in adult magnet toys, may use rare earth magnets that are much more powerful than normal magnets. The stronger magnets make it less likely that a child who has swallowed multiple magnets will be able to pass them. Once they clump together, surgery may be necessary to remove them.
The maker of Buckyballs, a popular adult desktop toy that employs powerful magnets, argues that the products are safe when used and stored properly. The products are not intended for children and have five warnings on the packaging and instructions. The company also offers an education plan to inform stores, schools and doctors of the proper use and potential danger of Buckyballs.
Despite the warnings, the products are still concerning to some. The chief of the division of pediatric gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine expressed doubt that there was any safe method of preventing children from getting access to the these products. Shiny, round magnets that are clearly intended to be played with are likely to be attractive to children. If you believe your child has swallowed a Buckyball or any magnet, it is vital to get the child medical attention as soon as possible.
Source: CNN Health, "Powerful magnets in toys raise risks from swallowing," by Elizabeth Cohen, 5 June 2012