Small Magnets Remain A Serious Danger to Children, Health Canada SaysSep 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
We have long been reporting on the dangers of magnetic toy sets to children. Now, Health Canada is repeating its advisories about the dangers posed by the small magnets to children who can swallow them. Should a child swallow more than one magnet over a short period of time, the small magnets can attract one another when traveling through the child’s intestines. When this happens, the magnets can slowly tear through the intestinal walls, and block or twist the intestines, and result in serious injuries and even death.
Small, powerful magnets are quite popular today and are often found in toys, novelty jewelry, and other consumer items. As a matter-of-fact, during 2006 and 2007, several high-profile, wide-scale toy recalls were conducted by toy manufacturers because of these types of powerful magnets separating from toys and being swallowed by small children, resulting in a number of injuries to children in the United States. Also, recently, a five-year-old child in British Columbia required emergency surgery to remove two magnetic toy parts she swallowed and, in the United States, as of April 2007, 33 cases of emergency surgery due to swallowed magnets were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Ingesting multiple magnets can cause deadly health issues that are tricky to diagnose. At first glance, physical examination findings can appear minimal; however, swallowing more than one magnet can result in significant complications, including bowel perforation, volvulus (intestinal twisting causing obstruction), ischemia (inadequate blood flow to a part of the body caused by constriction or blockage of the blood vessels), and death. Experts say that while swallowing one magnet the size of a watch battery is unlikely to cause health problems, swallowing two can be fatal. Older children are also ingesting magnets or magnetic toy pieces, meaning that if powerful magnets are swallowed, there is risk of serious injury, regardless of the child’s age.
Last year, the toy industry was besieged following over six million toy recalls, the highest number ever due to product defects; Chinese-made toys accounted for 94% of these recalls. No surprise given that it’s vastly cheaper to purchase toys from China where the hourly wage for toy manufacturing workers in 2006 was 36 cents, about 2.5% of the U.S. wage. Although unsafe lead levels were the cause of most of the recalls, toys with small parts and small magnets were recalled as well. Many such toys remained on shelves and were sold without warning labels several times last year. A New York statewide investigation revealed out of nearly 3,000 stores reviewed, over 600 still had recalled toys on their shelves.
Now, the Canadian Paediatric Society is recommending that magnetic toys be kept away from children under six and is urging parents and caregivers to take appropriate steps to avoid incidents with such products including teaching children that small magnets or small items that contain magnets should never be placed in their mouth; carefully supervising children around products containing magnets; seeking immediate medical care for any child who has swallowed, or is suspected of having swallowed, one or more magnets; checking often to ensure toys are in good condition; and following safety warnings and manufacturer's age recommendations on children's toys.