Buckyballs, rare-earth magnets pose danger for children

It is likely that many people in Troy have seen Buckyballs and other magnets made from rare-earth elements. These particularly strong magnets have been all the rage in offices and on desks across upstate New York, but the manufacturers have come under particular scrutiny because of the serious damage the magnets can cause to young children who swallow them.

Children accidentally swallowing these magnets has gotten to be such a problem that the Consumer Product Safety Commission filed an administrative complaint in July with the owners of Buckyballs. The federal agency is asking the magnet suppliers to voluntarily offer their customers a refund and inform them of the problems and dangers associated with swallowing the magnets. Unlike most of the companies that make rare-earth magnets, Buckyballs and another company have refused.

Though manufacturers should be able to sell their products and, as long as there are sufficient warnings on the packages, continue to market to adults, sometimes the product is too dangerous. Sometimes the warnings aren't enough to keep vulnerable populations, like children, safe, and the government has to step in. Another way to force manufacturers to take responsibility for their products' dangerous side effects is to file product liability lawsuits when someone is injured.

These magnets are especially dangerous if they are swallowed together. Their strength could cause the magnets to block the intestines or, sometimes, to pierce the walls of the intestines in their effort to link up. Until there is some move on the federal government's attempt to stop the sale of high-strength magnets, however, it appears that there will be potentially dangerous products still in stores.

Source: The New York Times, "For Buckyballs Toys, Child Safety Is a Growing Issue," Andrew Martin, Aug. 16, 2012

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