Zen Magnets and Neoballs Recalled Due to Risk of Injury and Death

The high-powered products can be ingested and cause severe intestinal damage

Miniture magnets
Recalled Zen Magnets
Source: CPSC

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government agency tasked with overseeing thousands of products, announced a mandatory recall today of about 10 million Zen Magnets and Neoballs magnets because of the risk they pose of injury and death if ingested.

The high-powered or “rare earth” magnets, which are each about the size of a BB pellet and sold in sets as desk toys for adults, can get into the hands of children, who may inadvertently swallow them, which can result in intestinal damage that can be fatal.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled magnets, keep them away from children, and contact Zen Magnets for a refund. (See below for recall details.)

More On Children's Product Safety

While most recalls are done voluntarily—with the company and the CPSC working together to remove the products from the market and out of homes—in this case, Zen did not agree to a voluntary recall, so the CPSC sued the company to force a mandatory recall.

Today’s announcement marks the latest action in a yearslong battle between the magnet industry and the CPSC and safety advocates.

The magnets, which are made from neodymium, are much stronger than the average refrigerator magnet, which can make them appealing to play with but also particularly dangerous if ingested. Once swallowed, they can be pulled together and cause blockages or holes in the intestines, among other injuries.

Doctors have long warned about the risks of the magnets, especially when they get into the hands of children. Young children may swallow them unknowingly, while older children and teens have been known to use the magnets as pretend tongue piercings before swallowing them accidentally.

“For more than a decade, Zen Magnets fought the CPSC and medical societies like the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, while children continued to be grievously injured,” says Bryan Rudolph, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist, an associate professor at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx borough of New York City, and a spokesperson for the medical society. “Today’s recall action should be taken seriously by anyone who owns these high-powered magnet products, especially if there’s any possibility children could come into contact with them.”

Despite warnings on the Zen Magnets and Neoballs, “kids will continue to swallow things,” Rudolph says. “The majority of kids who swallow high-powered magnets will require endoscopic removal or surgery.”

From 2009 to 2018, there were two deaths in the U.S. and at least an estimated 4,500 magnet-related cases treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for ingestions of magnets such as those found in magnet sets. Most of the cases involved children 11 months to 16 years old, according to the CPSC.

Zen Magnets founder Shihan Qu told Consumer Reports that the company has been offering a voluntary recall since 2016, “allowing customers to return magnets for a refund for any reason, including if they didn’t feel safe with them, didn’t think they could keep them from being swallowed, or was unable to understand why they are dangerous or didn’t like the name Zen Magnets.”

To protect children from serious magnet ingestion injuries and deaths, follow these tips.

  • Warn young children and teens to never put magnets in their mouth or nose to mimic piercings. Explain that this can lead to accidental ingestion of the magnets and serious injury.
  • Look for loose magnetic pieces if you think any are in your home. Also regularly inspect toys and children’s play areas for dislodged magnets.
  • Watch out for these symptoms of magnet ingestion: abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. But note that in some cases, symptoms won’t appear until there has been serious internal injury.
  • Go to the emergency department or urgent care clinic for an X-ray if you suspect your child has swallowed a magnet.
Miniture magnets
Recalled Neoballs

Source: CPSC Source: CPSC

Recall Details

Products recalled: About 10 million Zen Magnets and Neoballs magnets, sold individually and in sets. Both products are high-powered 5-mm spherical magnets. Zen Magnets were sold individually and in sets of 72, 216 with six spares, and 1,728 with eight spares.  Neoballs were sold individually and in sets in the following colors: silver, gold, red, orange, green, red, blue, and purple. “Zen Magnets” or “Neoballs” is printed on the packaging.

Sold at: ZenMagnets.com, Neoballs.com, and certain Colorado retailers listed in the CPSC recall announcement, beginning in January 2009 for between $12 and $264 per set, or individually for 6 to 10 cents per magnet.

The problem: When swallowed, the magnets can pull together, causing intestinal blockages, or they can burn holes in the lining of the intestines or stomach.

Zen Magnets is aware of two children who ingested Zen Magnets and required surgery to remove the magnets and parts of their intestines and bowels. In addition, the CPSC is aware of other reports of children and teenagers ingesting high-powered magnets and requiring surgery. A 19-month-old girl died after ingesting similar high-powered magnets. 

The fix: Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled magnets, keep them away from children, and return them to Zen Magnets for a refund.

How to contact the manufacturer: Call Zen Magnets at 844-936-6245, email at contact@zenmagnets.com, or go to the company’s website.

To report a product-related injury, go to the CPSC’s SaferProducts.gov website.

Rachel Rabkin Peachman

I'm a science journalist turned investigative reporter on CR's Special Projects team. My job is to shed light on issues affecting people's health, safety, and well-being. I've dug deep into problems such as dangerous doctors, deadly children's products, and contamination in our food supply. Got a tip? Follow me on Twitter (@RachelPeachman).