Feds want firm to stop selling magnetic Buckyballs

CHICAGO — Federal safety officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday demanding a recall of magnetic desk toys marketed to adults, citing serious injuries to children who have ingested pieces of the product.

The rare administrative complaint from the Consumer Product Safety Commission also requests that the manufacturer of Buckyballs, New York-based Maxfield &Oberton, stop selling the product and alert consumers that it is defective.

Over the past few years the Chicago Tribune has documented injuries to children from the ingestion of powerful magnets from toys. If a child swallows more than one magnet, or a magnet and a metal object, the two pieces can attract each other through tissue and cause perforations or blockages of the gastrointestinal tract. The injuries can require multiple surgeries and are sometimes fatal.

Maxfield &Oberton, which according to the complaint imports the tiny magnets from China, issued a statement titled “Thank you for trying to drive a $50 million New York-based consumer product company out of business.”

“We are not sure why the CPSC wants to ban magnets,” spokesman Andrew Frank said Wednesday. “We have been working with the agency for two years on outreach and education and to make sure the labels are correct so we were surprised by this.”

The agency confirmed that it has been working with the company, starting with a 2010 recall aimed at getting the product back from consumers younger than 14 and adding labels that warn against buying Buckyballs for children. In November the two entities worked together on a education campaign involving social media, public service announcements and online warnings.

Despite those efforts, reports of “incidents and injuries” continued to come in, the agency said. One incident cited in the complaint involved a 10-year-old girl who in January swallowed Buckyballs that her father had bought for her. The girl had been pretending they were a tongue piercing and had to undergo surgery to remove them. The CPSC subsequently requested a “stop sale” on the items but the company did not comply, the agency said.

“We felt the time had come when we needed to take a stronger position in order to protect the safety of children,” said agency spokesman Scott Wolfson. “We don’t want any more children rushed into emergency surgery.”

More than 2 million Buckyballs have been sold to U.S. consumers, according to the complaint. The CPSC included another product from the same company, Buckycubes, in the suit because of their potential to pose the same hazards, even though no injuries have been reported.

Wolfson said Buckyballs and similar powerful magnetic toys have been implicated in more than two dozen ingestions since 2009. Although the company placed prominent warnings on its website and products, the CPSC complaint says they have been ineffective.

“We recognize that the company and the CPSC have tried to address the problem,” Wolfson said. “But the incidents and injuries have continued. It is a product primarily intended for adults, but children are getting to it.”

The last time the CPSC filed an administrative complaint against a toy company was in 2001 when it sued Daisy Manufacturing Co., which makes BB guns. That case ended in a settlement, according to Wolfson.

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