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Magnetic Play Sets Still Dangerous Despite New Safety Rules

Dec 5, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Magnetic play sets, like the popular Magnetix Building Sets sold by Mega Brands, are high on many children's holiday gift lists.  And though Magnetix and other such play sets have been the subject of numerous toy recalls, many parents might believe these toys are now safe.  That's because, following the magnet play set recalls, the toy industry drafted a new set of design and labeling standards intended to make magnetic toys safer and warn parents of which toys have magnets in them.   Unfortunately, there's a problem - the new magnetic play set standards won't go into effect until January, long after people have finished their holiday shopping.

Magnetix Building Sets were the first magnetic play sets subject to a large scale recall in 2006, following the death of a toddler who swallowed a magnet that had come loose from its casing.   The magnets in Magnetix and so many other similar sets are high-energy neodymium iron boron magnets.  If a child swallows more than one of these powerful magnets, they can be attracted to each other while in the intestinal tract. As a result, the magnets clump together, causing the intestines to twist. This can cause intestinal blockages, bowel perforations and even death. By the time the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) issued its first Magnetix recall in 2006, it had received 34 reports of injuries related to the toy.  Since the Magnetix incident, other magnet play sets have been recalled.  Mattel has issued recalls for 18 million other magnetic toys in several popular lines including Polly Pockets and Batman.

Both Mega Brands and Mattel have redesigned their magnetic toy sets by partially embedding the magnets in plastic and sealing dangerous pieces with a cap that prevents the parts from escaping.  The Toy Industry Association also addressed the problem in May by drafting a set of voluntary standards for magnetic play sets.  Under the new rules, magnets must either be "reliably contained" within a product or the toys must carry a warning label explaining the dangers of ingestion. 

Unfortunately, most of the magnetic play sets in stores right now were made over the summer, and the safer versions won't hit the market until January.  What's worse, many of the magnet toys on the market have been proven unsafe.  According to the Wall Street Journal,  a report published last month by the consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG cites five toy lines believed to pose an ingestion hazard that were being sold in a number of discount stores nationwide. In some cases, the group found loose magnets falling right out of the packaging. The report also cites two lines of magnetic jewelry as hazardous because the new rules don't apply to such products since jewelry isn't technically considered a "toy" by the industry.

At the moment, there is just no way for parents to be sure magnetic play sets are safe for children.  For that reason, it might be best to avoid these hazardous toys all together.


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