The Consumer Product Safety Commission has dealt a swift blow to the makers of desktop magnetic toys Buckyballs after filing an administrative complaint against them earlier this week. The agency says it’s already convinced 10 retailers, including Amazon.com, to stop selling the tiny yet powerful magnets over concerns that children are swallowing them. We’ve already heard from one reader who had a Groupon deal refunded because of the CPSC’s filing.
The CPSC is suing manufacturers Maxfield and Oberton to stop the sale of the products, claiming the company refused to issue a recall. It says at least a dozen young children have reportedly been hurt by swallowing the magnets, as well as teens and tweens who use the balls to make it look like their tongues are pierced. Buckycubes have also been targeted by the CPSC.
According to the CPSC:
When two or more magnets are swallowed, they can attract to one another through the stomach and intestinal walls, resulting in serious injuries, such as holes in the stomach and intestines, intestinal blockage, blood poisoning and possibly death. Medical professionals may not diagnose the need for immediate medical intervention in such cases, resulting in worsening of the injuries.
Maxfield and Oberton called the CPSC’s actions to try and block the sale “unfair, unjust and un-American,” and claim the products are meant for and marketed to people 14 years and older and have a warning label telling consumers to keep them out of the reach of children.
The company did cooperate in a 2010 recall after reports of children swallowing the magnets without injury. Since then, the CPSC says it kept receiving reports of children suffering injuries after ingesting two or more balls. In 2011, the makers of Buckyballs worked with the CPSC to inform the public that Buckyballs are only for adults, but, the CPSC says, ingestions and injuries kept happening.
Maxfield and Oberton’s founder Craig Zucker said his company will fight the agency, reports the Associated Press.
“We worked with the commission in order to do an education video less than 9 months ago, so we are shocked they are taking this action,” he added.
A notice on the Buckyballs site reads:
You might have heard there’s a problem with our products…
THIS IS NOT TRUE.
A government agency (the Consumer Product Safety Commission) is saying they should be recalled because children occasionally get ahold of them. This is unfair. We market exclusively to adults. We are vigorously defending our right to market these products you love. Let us know how you feel about this: Comment on Facebook; send a tweet; tell your friends; complain loudly; or just buy a set to stick it to the CPSC. Read more here.
Consumerist reader Robert was displeased to receive the following notice from Groupon that he wouldn’t be receiving the Buckyballs and Buckycubes he’d bought at a discounted price.
Thanks for purchasing our deal for Buckyballs or Buckycubes.
Unfortunately, due to concerns from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regarding the safety of this product, we’ve had to cancel this deal. For more information, please visit http://www.cpsc.gov/. We know how disappointing it can be when a great deal is no longer available, and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Rather than wait for a final resolution of any legal proceedings, we have decided to proactively issue you a full refund for the product. Please allow up to 10 business days for this to be reflected on your statement.
Thank you for your continued support, and please let us know at http://www.groupon.com/support if there’s anything else we can do to help.
Groupon Customer Support
This is the first time the CPSC has filed an administrative complaint against a company since a 2001 BB gun case. An administrative law judge could rule in favor of the commission, which would allow the CPSC to force the company to stop selling Buckyballs and Buckycubes. Maxfield and Oberton could also appeal to the four commissioners of the CPSC or appeal in federal court.
Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of our elder siblings at Consumer Reports, has issued a statement in support of the CPSC’s actions:
“The CPSC is doing the right thing to help keep children safe,” said Ellen Bloom, Director of Federal Policy for Consumers Union. “These types of toys are marketed to adults, but children have easy access to them, and they can be seriously hurt. We’ve seen too many cases where children swallow these tiny magnets, and they wind up having major surgeries and suffering long, drawn-out injuries. We agree with the pediatricians who say we need to do everything we can to keep these harmful magnetic products away from our children.”
A recall negotiation between the company and the CPSC is usually what happens in this kind of situation, but with retailers already siding with the CPSC, it appears many will have to go without rare earth magnet toys for a bit longer at least.
CPSC Sues Maxfield & Oberton Over Hazardous Buckyballs and Buckycube Desk Toys [CPSC.gov]
Feds Act to Stop Sale of Magnetic Buckyballs [Associated Press]