Bryan Rudolph, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, disputed claims that negligent parents are to blame for children’s magnet ingestions, saying that no amount of warning or parental vigilance can prevent these magnet ingestions, which he described as "accidents involving an irreparably unsafe product."
Within the last year alone, there have been at least seven published reports of high-powered magnet ingestions affecting children in the U.S. For example, a recent study based on an analysis of emergency-room data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System estimates that from 2002 through 2011, 7,159 emergency-room visits were attributable to high-powered magnet sets.
And a survey of 201 pediatric gastroenterologists from 44 states identified 481 cases of documented magnet ingestions in children from 2002 to 2011, with 320 of them occurring from 2009 through 2011. The high frequency of magnet ingestions in that three-year period corresponds to the introduction of high-powered magnet desk toys.
The number of publicly reported magnet ingestions really represents "only the tip of the icebarg," said Marsha Kay, M.D., chairwoman of pediatric gastroenterology at the Cleveland Clinic Chindren's Hospital. Kay said that within the last two weeks, a young doctor in training at a New York City hospital had told her that she had encountered five cases of magnet ingestion in the last 14 months.
Pointing out that one company alone—the former Buckyballs maker Maxfield & Oberton—sold 1.5 million magnet sets between 2009 and 2011, Maria Oliva-Hemker, M.D., chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, told CPSC commissioners that “sales of high-powered magnet sets by multiple manufacturers indicate that there are billions of high-powered magnet balls now in our environment.” Therefore, she said, the risk of magnet ingestion by children will remain high for a period of time despite all efforts by doctors and consumer groups to educate the public about their dangers.
In fact, eliminating the risks posed by high-powered magnet sets requires not only banning their sale but also “doing everything possible to remove products already sold from any environment where children live, visit, play, or learn,” said Athos Bousvarous, M.D., president of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, in a statement released jointly by consumer-advocacy groups and medical associations.
For more information on neodymium-magnet risks and how to prevent injuries, visit the CPSC's Magnets Information Center.