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Magnetic Dangers

Do magnets really make toys more fun to play with? Are their risks worth having these toys around the house or schools? I've wondered that often in the past year, particularly since the Consumer Product Safety Commission started recalling toys with small magnets.

We're not talking refrigerator-sized magnets, folks. And we're not just talking about these being hazardous to very young children. We're talking a stronger, minuscule version -- 1/8th of an inch wide -- that are easily swallowed inadvertently. Since March 31, 2006, the CPSC has recalled more than 10 million toys containing magnets that can fall out of products and harm children.

That includes a warning to parents on magnetic toys and a recall yesterday of more than 4 million Mega Brands America Magnetix building sets. This is the second recall of Magnetix. The first, on March 31, 2006, allowed owners of certain Magnetix sets to send them back and get replacements. Those replacement products are part of the recall just issued for all sets that are age-labeled 6+ -- except those currently on store shelves -- that contain a cautionary magnet label on the box.

These magnets have caused the death of a toddler and 33 injuries requiring surgery. In addition, consumers have reported at least 1,500 incidents of the magnets separating from the Magnetix building pieces. When multiple magnets are swallowed, the magnets attract to each other inside the intestines and cause perforations and blockages. Both can be deadly.

Other products that have been recalled in the past year because of loose magnets are Polly Pocket Magnetic Play Sets, Magneblock Magnetic Construction Toys and Link-N-Lite Magnetic Light-Up Puzzles.

"Just because magnets are in a product doesn't make it unsafe," said CPSC senior spokesperson Julie Vallese, who added that the CPSC is simply trying to make parents aware of the issue. Parents should base their decision on whether to buy toys with magnets on their child's play habits, Vallese noted. For instance, does your child use his mouth as a third hand? Does he put toys in his mouth as part of a dare? And parents should check these toys after each use to make sure that magnets haven't come loose or fallen out.

Neither Vallese nor the Toy Industry Association know how many toys with small magnets are on the market, but the number seems be growing daily. And magnets aren't just in toys, they're in jewelry, too. Clip-on nose rings have given way to a magnetic version. There are also earrings that can be held on both sides of the lobe with magnets.

Regulation of magnetic toys before they hit the market has been lax because the powerful, small magnets now used have only recently become widely available. But that's about to change. As early as next month, the ASTM subcommittee on toy safety will issue new standards for companies that make toys with magnets. Toymakers will need to have a third party lab test toys to ensure that magnets don't come loose with normal use and will need to put warning labels on the toys, according to Joan Lawrence, the vice president for standards and regulatory affairs at the Toy Industry Association and the chairman of the ASTM toy safety committee. Lawrence added that major retailers require the certification before they will purchase the toys and put them on store shelves. The toy industry has not yet agreed on when companies will start complying with the new rules.

Until I see the new rules in place and stop seeing these recalls, I'll stick to the hard-and-fast rule in my house: No magnets other than the old-fashioned, large refrigerator type.

Do you buy magnetic toys in your house? Will this latest round of alerts spark a change in your toy and jewelry buying choices?

Today's Talkers: Kids Sell Their Toys to Save Dad ... D.C. Approves Mandatory HPV Vaccine

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 20, 2007; 8:00 AM ET  | Category:  Recalls
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Do any of the recalls include the puzzles for toddlers that have small magnets on them so that when they are put on the puzzle it plays a noise? i.e. the cow moos and the pig oinks? That is about all we have in the house that I am aware of.

Posted by: HappyDad | April 20, 2007 7:42 AM | Report abuse

My kids are a little old for this, but I remember that for a while there, we referred to Polly Pocket as Polly Choking Hazard. LIttle tiny toys with magnets which were just the right size to be swallowed. What will they come up with next? For awhile all I purchased for my son was Rescue Heroes because they were too big to be eaten.

Posted by: Armchair Mom | April 20, 2007 8:41 AM | Report abuse

That's a really strict rule you have, Stacey, although I suppose it depends on the age of your kids.

Posted by: Ryan | April 20, 2007 9:23 AM | Report abuse

DS, age 6, enjoys magnetix. You can build things with magnetix that you cannot with legos and k'nex. To be safe regarding the smaller children in the family (cousins) he only plays with them on the table in my room.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 20, 2007 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I can't remember if she was 2 or 3, but my daughter ate over a dozen balloons during her birthday party. We had no idea until the diaper change the next day. I think she was attracted to the bright colors and thought it was candy.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 20, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I agree with those above that it really depends on your child. I have one who is 6 and has enjoyed these magnets since she was 4. She is not a mouther, and is mature, so we have talked about how magnets can be dangerous, what not to do with them, etc.

The toys are a great way to create 3-dimensional shapes, etc.

I would certainly have a different approach if I had younger children and/or children who were mouthers. I always remove these toys when we have younger children over, and my child understands the importance of doing so.

Bottom line, if your child can handle it, it's fine.

Posted by: Germantown | April 20, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

HappyDad: The CPSC has not issued recalls for the puzzles that you are referring to. The only puzzles recalled are the Link-N-Lite Magnetic Light-Up Puzzles that I referred to in the post. Click on the link and you'll see what those look like.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | April 20, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I have to say - I took one look at those Magnetix when my son got it as a gift and thought- what the !@#$ was this person thinking - not my then 6 yr old - but his 1 1/2 yr old sister. Sure - the toy's labeled 6 and up - but I got rid of it as fast as I could b/c even before the recall it just looked too darn dangerous to have in my house...

Posted by: maria | April 20, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Father of

"I can't remember if she was 2 or 3, but my daughter ate over a dozen balloons during her birthday party."

Maybe she was looking for some advance contraceptives.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 20, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

11:50, lol! Another story: my wife once found a strait pin in my oldest daughter's diaper. Some angel earned his wings on that one.

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 20, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

In my family it was a bobby pin in the diaper! Kids are miraculous.

Posted by: OLDER MOM | April 20, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

You try to be aware and you try to be careful. I do think we overprotect/oversanitize things to the detriment of growth in children today.

But if you think it's a serious enough issue, then do it. Accidents WILL happen, and if you can prevent this without seriously reducing their overall well-being, then have at it.

Posted by: Liz D | April 20, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

These toys are labeled for older children. They were never marketed for infants and toddlers. People need to do their jobs as parents and read labels before they bring toys home. I'm usually not much for defending corporations but this recall is ridiculous and obviously meant to protect the company from people who don't read labels and don't take responsibility for what they bring into their homes.

Posted by: Donald | April 20, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse


" this recall is ridiculous and obviously meant to protect the company from people who don't read labels and don't take responsibility for what they bring into their homes."

Which is the vast majority of parents.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 20, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Donald: This Magnetix recall is different than the earlier one in that 10 children between the ages of 6 and 11 swallowed these magnets. They are not just a hazard for children under the age range of these toys.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | April 20, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Actually, a number of the children who ate the Magnetix toys were between the ages of 6 and 11! These toys really terrify me. The pieces are quite small, so easy to miss while tidying. I always worry my toddler will be visiting a house with older kids and swallow one or two while my back is turned. You really have to watch toddlers like a hawk. They are smart enough to wait for their opportunity and they don't understand why lying is bad. (Did you eat the magnet? No. Why would you think that, mommy?)

Posted by: m | April 20, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Maybe children between the ages of 6 and 11 shouldn't be eating toys -- i.e. I don't see how your children's strange behavior is the manufacturer's fault. Just a random suggestion on my part.

Posted by: Ryan | April 20, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

What kind of normal 6-11 year old eats toys?

Posted by: Don't get it | April 20, 2007 2:37 PM | Report abuse

"What kind of normal 6-11 year old eats toys?"

The ones that are breast fed until age 8, sleep in "family beds", eat snot out of their noses, and suck their thumbs while they play with their private parts 24/7.

And, they have never heard the word "No".

Those are the future screw-ups of America.

Posted by: Jake | April 20, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Ugh. How rude and judgemental can you be, Jake?

Please come spend a day with my 14-y-o autistic son. No. On second thought, don't. Don't you dare come near him. You are the last thing he needs.

On the subject... magnets in toys.

We just spent part of spring break at the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. Boys and parents both had a great time. Younger son, (the 9-y-o neuro-typical "gifted" one) picked out comm-badges for himself and his big brother. They come in two parts, one that goes on the outside of the shirt, and the second that goes inside and makes the distinctive start-trek-communicator sound. The two parts are held together by small powerful magnets.

Guess which kid managed to pull the magnet out of the front-piece and put it back the wrong way so the two parts repelled each other? If you thought it was the autistic, you're wrong.

We parents just can't ever predict what foolish and, yes, childish things our kids are likely to do. So a company that takes action - this recall - after kids are hurt or even put at risk, is being a responsible corporate citizen.

And blaming the parents of the unlucky kids is overly judgemental. "There but for the grace of God..." could have been anyone's kids.

Posted by: Sue | April 20, 2007 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Does no one remember lite-brite? Or legos? How on earth did we survive the 70s???

Posted by: Washington DC | April 20, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Come on, you guys. We're talking about magnets so small they can be swallowed accidentally. And plenty of 6-year olds will put a toy in their mouth to hang onto it for a minute, or to try to pry things apart. Shoot, most adults I know do things like this sometimes. How often do you stick a pencil in your mouth for a second while finding a piece of paper to take a phone message?

And by the way, when did it become so acceptable to be mean and ugly to other human beings? Is this because of the internet and the anonymity it offers? I sure hope some of you guys don't talk to people in real life like this!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 20, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Um... Jake, while you are talking about all the screw-up parents who never tell their kids, "no," did your parents ever teach you about civility? About how to behave in society? Maybe basic manners? If my kids ever grow up to talk like you, I don't think I'll even be able to look at myself in the mirror.

Posted by: va | April 20, 2007 5:08 PM | Report abuse

You're right that we can't predict what foolish things may kids do. For example, they might choke on a piece of food. Should we sue the farmers for growing a choking hazard? Or perhaps the restaurant cook for chopping up the vegetables into just the right size pieces? Maybe we need to recall all foods that are choking hazards?

My point is that virtually anything can present a "risk" simply because it is unpredictable how 300 million people will deal with it. Having one child die due to some bizarre occurrence is sad yet not something we should necessarily worry about. With 300 million people in this country, the bizarre and unusual will occur rather frequently. Think about it: Any of those things where people say it's a one in a million chance will happen 300 times in this country. The media make a huge deal out of one kidnapping 1000 miles away and you're all screaming that it's unreasonable and unsafe to expect your 10 year old to walk one block to school.

I think the problem is that too many of you cannot comprehend real risk and cannot acknowledge that all of life is full of risks. You worry about bird flu, which has killed ZERO people in this country. You worried about SARS (which killed ZERO people in this country) and West Nile Virus (which has killed very few people in this country) but ignore regular old flu which kills 30,000-60,000 people ANNUALLY in this country. I've heard more people agonize over the potential for a bird flu pandemic while never mentioning a peep about the regular flu. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

So, the problem is that you all freak out when ONE child manages to choke to death on a toy. Yes, it's sad and, yes, it's rare and unfortunate, but this does not mean that the manufacturer is to blame. I mean, for goodness' sake, if you're going to blame the manufacturer and sue the manufacturer, why not sue the parents as well for not watching their kid 24/7? Oh, wait, that's right -- it's impossible to do that. Just as it's impossible to make the world a completely safe place.

Posted by: Ryan | April 20, 2007 7:55 PM | Report abuse

My three year old still puts a lot of things in her mouth. It is not the swallowing of the magnets that seem scary. It is if you swallow enough of them they repel and block your intenstines that is scary. I did not even know about these toys but I will be looking out for them. And Ryan, you would not be so harsh if that one unfortunate kids was your own. Have a heart and think of someone losing their child over a $10 toy. No, it is not the manufactures fault but they need to think one law suit will probably be enough to shut them down.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 23, 2007 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Foamgnome, you're saying it's not the manufacturer's fault but they should still be sued? Or at least be frightened out of their minds that they could be sued? WTF?

Look at it this way: What if someone came on to your property, climbed on your roof, jumped off, and hurt himself and then tried to sue you? Is it your fault that they hurt themselves? So, is it OK that they sue you?

Posted by: Ryan | April 23, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

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