Toy Industry Will Delve Into Magnets
Today, the toy industry is setting up a special committee to investigate whether there should be a voluntary safety standard for magnetic toys. The move follows a major recall of a popular magnetic toy building set, Magnetix, after a 21-month-old boy died from swallowing magnets that had broken free from the building set his older brother had gotten as a birthday present. See my earlier item.
The toy committee of the international standard-setting organization, ASTM International, is meeting today to discuss the growing use of magnets in toys and will set up a working group that could well conclude that some new warning label is needed. It also could decide to take a more drastic step and require some sort of performance test or standard for magnetic toys, perhaps even limiting the strength of magnets in certain toys.
The working group stems from the March 31 Consumer Product Safety Commission recall of certain Magnetix building sets, which, in turn, was prompted by the November 2005 death of the 21-month-old boy. Magnets had twisted his small intestine and created a fatal blockage.
Calling the product "unsuitable for young children," the CPSC said in March that it knew of 34 incidents involving small magnets, including four serious injuries in children from 3 to 8 years old. Three children had intestinal perforations that required surgery and hospitalization in intensive care. Additionally, a 5-year-old aspirated two magnets that were surgically removed from his lung. As a result of the recall, the agency has received more reports of incidents involving magnets but yesterday had no official new tally to report. It will be participating in the ASTM meeting today.
Until now, magnets in toys haven't posed a major safety problem, noted Joan Lawrence, chairman of the ASTM subcommittee on toy safety (she's also vice president of standards and regulatory affairs for the Toy Industry Association). "Magnets are used in so many educational and science toys," such as the letters posted on refrigerators that help teach young children how to spell, Lawrence said. "The death of the young child has drawn everyone's attention. We want to get to the bottom of that, to see if anything has changed" that merits the creation of a safety standard.
Safety officials said that the strength of the magnets may be what's different; what's been on refrigerator for years may have magnets far weaker than what's currently in the building-block systems that use magnets. And some of the current magnets are so strong that if more than one is swallowed, they can be attracted to each other inside a child's intestine, causing a potentially fatal perforation or blockage.
"There are so many products on the market, their uses and strength need to be taken into consideration," said CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese.
The Magnetix recall did not lead to the removal of all of the products from store shelves, but rather a limited selection that seemed to be the problem in many of the complaints received by Rose Art, the company that makes Magnetix. For the toys already in homes, the company offered other Rose Art products as replacement toys. Rose Art also directed stores to pull off all Magnetix labeled for 3-100 year olds; sets for 6 and up could remain. And the company asked stores to post conspicuous warning signs about the toy at any Magnetix display and at the cash register.
I don't know about you, but I've been to several stores and have seen mixed results. At some stores, I couldn't find any warnings about Magnetix; in others, they're quite small, while some have prominent warnings. The same is true online. I'd like to hear from you what you've seen. Plus, let me know about your experiences if you have tried to exchange your Magnetix for another toy. How well did the process work?
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