Fatal Attraction: The Hazards of Magnetic Building Sets and Toys

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Magnetic building sets and toys, despite their great appeal to a child, pose hazards when used by children or even teens. Between 2009 and 2012, there were approximately 320 reported cases of magnet ingestion and half of these cases involved children between the ages of 13 months and 6 years. Many of the dangers of magnetic toys and sets, however, are not apparent on first sight to parents and caregivers. These are not the same magnets that are found in common refrigerator magnets. These building sets and toys are using rare earth magnets, which are much more powerful and can cause serious injury. Below, we have answered some common questions about magnetic hazards and how to keep children safe.

(facts from www.naspghan.org)

Even if magnets are swallowed, it’s not that bad, right?

Magnet ingestion is difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms are delayed and include common ailments such as stomachaches and fevers. Screening for foreign bodies might not be the first things doctors think of doing when presented with these symptoms, delaying treatment. Once magnets are swallowed, they can attract each other through the walls of internal organs, causing ulcers and puncturing the intestinal walls, resulting in massive internal trauma. They can also collect in clusters in the organ tracts, causing blockages and releasing harmful chemicals. They can require surgical removal. If a child has swallowed a magnet they require immediate medical attention.

But my kids love playing with magnets, what’s the big deal?

Magnetic building sets and toys can have many tiny powerful magnets, making it very difficult to tell if more than one has been swallowed. It is easy to lose track and have tiny magnetic pieces lying around the house. The potential hazard far outweighs the benefits of magnetic sets, and there are a multitude of other toys that are equally as fun, without the risk.

The box says it’s for older kids, not little ones. Who would give magnets to their toddlers?

Since 2009, rare earth magnets have been banned in toys specifically marketed for children unless the magnet is encased in something too big to swallow. However, magnetic sets with tiny parts specifically marketed for adults have still been on the market. But even if the toys are designed and made for adults, their bright colors and magnetic properties make them very appealing to small children. And because magnetic building sets and toys generally have many tiny parts, an older child playing with it would not notice that some magnets have gone missing under the furniture or in the carpet. A younger sibling could easily walk or crawl by and find these small magnets.

My kids are older, they wouldn’t swallow magnets.

Many pre-teens and teenagers are using these magnetic building sets and toys to simulate facial piercings by putting one on the outside of their lip or nose and one on the inside. Having magnets inside their mouth or nose makes it very easy for a couple to be accidentally swallowed.

One popular magnetic building set, Buckyballs, has recently issued a recall for all their products. You can learn more about this recall at http://buckyballsrecall.com. However, just because your child’s specific magnetic building set or toy may not have been recalled does not mean it isn’t a potential hazard. All magnetic sets and toys have the potential to cause massive internal trauma if swallowed. Even if your magnetic set is marketed for older children and appears to be safe, it has the potential to cause health hazards to a child. All magnetic sets and toys should be returned to the manufacturer if they have been recalled or disposed of safely even if no formal recall has been issued. To learn more about this topic and other product hazards, visit www.KidsInDanger.org or the CPSC Magnet Information Center. Also check out our flyer about the Buckyballs Recall.

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