Court Nixes Ban on Magnets Seen As Ingestion Risk
Release time:2017-04-18 09:22 Author:Nature
A federal appeals court has overturned a U.S. government ban on tiny, high-powered magnets
experts say pose a serious risk for gastrointestinal injuries to young children.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), along with pediatric GI specialists who sounded
the alarm about the danger the magnets pose, expressed frustration with the Nov. 22 decision from the
Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
The 2-1 court decision said the CPSC’s data, including reports of “possible” ingestions, were “too
uncertain and imprecise to constitute substantial evidence for the Commission’s findings on the risk of
injury.” The CPSC “cannot promulgate a safety standard unless it concludes ‘that the rule ... is reasonably
necessary to eliminate or reduce an unreasonable risk of injury.’ Underlying findings that peg the risk of
injury as a mere ‘possibility’ provide the Court no assistance in assessing that conclusion.”
“We’re not thrilled by the 10th Circuit Court’s opinion,” said James E. Heubi, MD, professor of pediatrics at
the University of Cincinnati and president of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology,
Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN). Camille Bonta, a spokeswoman for NASPGHAN, said the ruling
“doesn’t change the hazards that these magnets pose. The fact that they’re going to be back on the market
is going to require pediatric gastroenterologists to be more vigilant.”
But the founder of the company that sued the CPSC over the ban said the decision changes nothing except
the ability to market the magnets within the United States. “All the ban did was push all the sellers overseas,”
said Shihan Qu, owner of Zen Magnets, in Denver. “There were overseas imposters. You can buy the exact
same product that was banned.”
The spherical magnets, which at 5 mm are slightly larger than BBs, were introduced in 2008 after a patent on
rare-earth magnets expired. The devices are sold in sets of 72 to 1,728, and are marketed as desktop trinkets
and stress relievers—not as toys, Mr. Qu said. By 2012, the U.S. market for the magnets—sold variously under
names such as Zen Magnets, Buckyballs or Neoballs—was about $15 million, according to Mr. Qu.
The rare-earth magnets are much more powerful than those usually found on refrigerators. Pediatric GIs began
noticing a serious issue when children ingested multiple magnets.
“Kids and toddlers are prone to stick things in their mouths,” Dr. Heubi said. “If they swallow more than one, then
there is this propensity for them to become opposed to each other. Then they have a potential to necrose.”
Complications range from fistulas to bowel loss to, in at least one case, death.
One survey found 16,386 incidents of possible magnet ingestion among children between 2002 and 2011—with
a sharp increase in injuries once the high-powered magnets hit the market (J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2013;57:18-22).
Another report found that multiple magnets were found in the GI tract in 90% of the cases identified in the survey
who required medical intervention (J Surg Res 2015;199:137-140). Of 99 reported ingestions, 73 required laparotomy
or laparoscopy. Moreover, 17% of the children experienced fistulas or perforations, and some had multiple injuries.
One child died after a hemorrhage.
The magnets pose different problems from other items young children tend to eat. First, “the toddler can’t communicate
to anyone that they’ve swallowed it, ” Ms. Bonta said. Dr. Heubi added that symptoms often mimic other ailments.
“Some are vague, like vomiting,” he said. And performing an MRI on a child who has swallowed a magnet can be
particularly dangerous, he noted.
After NASPGHAN presented its concerns, the CPSC sought to outlaw the manufacture and sale of powerful, small
magnets in 2014.