Magnets remain despite risk to children

CHICAGO – Last summer Kelly Bruski went to the store with her sons to buy a birthday gift for her boyfriend.

After the boys, now 6 and 9, chose a magnet desk-toy called Buckyballs, Bruski let her sons to play with the magnets under her supervision.Yet her older son, Brandon, wound up in the emergency room in January with stomach cramps and vomiting. He’d swallowed two magnets, leaving his small and large intestines bound together by magnetic attraction and ulcerations in his intestinal lining.

Following a 2007 Chicago Tribune investigation of hazards from magnetic children’s toys, standards were put in place to disallow the use of high-powered magnets in toy pieces small enough to swallow. But some medical experts say they have been seeing more incidents related to adult desk toys like Buckyballs.

Although no one keeps exact records on the problem, one medical group estimated from national surveillance data on injuries that ingesting magnets led to more than 16,000 emergency room visits by children younger than 18 from 2002 to 2011.

Most of the injuries involved “kitchen gadgets or toys,” according to the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

Many companies recently stopped making and selling high-powered magnet sets under pressure from federal regulators, but billions of the magnets remain in homes. It’s still possible to buy them online.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has lawsuits pending against two manufacturers, Zen Magnets and Star Networks, that still sell the magnets and against the maker of Buckyballs, Maxfield & Oberton, which no longer sells them but has not issued a recall.

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