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CPSC Commission Back Ban on High-Powered Magnet Desk Toys

Aug 28, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has ruled in favor of creating new rules that would essentially seek to ban desk toys containing hundreds of small, high-powered "rare earth magnets" due to the risk of small children ingesting the magnets.

Commercially, these products are marketed as Buckyballs and Zen Magnets, among others. They are sold primarily to adults as desk toys or "manipulative" products like puzzles. 

Although they are usually labeled as being for consumers over the age of 14 since they were introduced to the U.S. market in 2008, they've been linked to more than 1,700 emergency room visits through last year. Many of those visits involved children ingesting the magnets, a situation that could quickly develop into serious health problems.

 If the small, manipulative magnets become dislodged from their compact form, they could end up in the hands of children. The "toys'" appearance themselves often lend them to being picked up and played with by children.  CPSC estimates that as many as 70 percent of the incidents reported to the agency involving people being rushed to emergency rooms due to the ingestion of these magnets were children between the ages of 4 and 12.

 In recent weeks, the agency contacted the makers of these increasingly popular products and demanded they stop production of them immediately. It was a rare move on the part of the agency and only resulted in angering the makers of the products, who stated they work under the current laws to strictly warn consumers they're not for children under the age of 14.

 Obviously, the companies failed to heed the warning issued them and that prompted a response from the agency, attempting to flex its regulatory arm. The new rules, according to an industry source, would prohibit products that contained magnets that fit through the CPSC's standardized tube for measuring small objects. Each magnet would be required to have a "flux" level of 50, a measure taken by the agency based on several factors. These rules are based on standards set by the agency for products aimed at small children.

 If a product does not meet these standards, the agency would act to ban its sale in the future. The proposed rules will now go through a 75-day review period open to public comment. It's assumed the makers of these products will make attempts to have this proposal eliminated before it can become law.

 CPSC Commissioner Nancy Nord said in releasing the proposed rules this week: "In particular, the proposed standard proceeds on the belief that warnings do not work for this relatively new product because (it is assumed) warnings are and will be ignored or otherwise not communicated effectively. But in the absence of a robust and comprehensive program to educate and warn about this hazard, it is unclear that warnings will be ineffective and our conclusion that such is the case is speculative."

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