Some Retailers Pull Magnetic Desktop Toy Buckyballs After CPSC Files Complaint

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.

Hi There,
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.

Regards,

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]

Comments

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  1. BrownLeopard says:

    ‘cuz giving your kids extremely powerful magnets as toys is such a great idea in the first place.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      There is a warning not to give them to children. Maybe they CPSC should start banning parents that can’t read from having children.

      • eldergias says:

        Agreed. The CPSC statement said that complaints arose from children finding stray magnets on the floor and ingesting them. That is the parent’s fault, no one else’s. By that reasoning, we should ban razor blades if people are dumb enough to leave them on the floor and their kids eat them.

        Being a better parent is what is required here, not regulation of a product aimed at adults. Banning this product will just lead these same problem parents to make the same mistakes with another product, then demand that gets banned too.

  2. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    Maybe I should get my set before they disappear to history like lawn darts. I have seen the conspicuous warnings, and I think manufacturers should be able to make products like these for adults.

    Now on the flip side, kids visit offices. When they are on an adults desk there is no longer a warning. On the other hand kitchen knives are extremely dangerous and there is no longer a warning on them. Of course I have read that some in the UK want to ban knives with sharp points.

    • DaveInBillsburg says:

      Actually, as long as the edge is sharp, most chefs don’t cut with the tip, I have several knives that don’t have a sharp point at the tip, it is rounded or squared off and I don’t have any problems using them for any type of cuts.

      If you are talking about hunting type knives, which are made for stabbing, that is a different case.

    • Cerne says:

      Kids who visit offices and grab everything and anything off a co-workers desk should not be visiting offices.

      And the UK is fucked. Their gun ban didn’t work so now they think a knife ban will cut down on stabbings. Which is stupid.

    • do-it-myself says:

      Oh man…lawn darts! They were so much fun, I haven’t played with them since I was a KID.

  3. Fishnoise says:

    I saw a countertop display of these at my local hobby store a few weeks ago, along with a bunch of impulse toys and candy. I thought about getting a pack, but decided on a balsa-wood airplane instead — promptly destroyed by my children.

  4. Tegan says:

    Parents should definitely not buy these for children. Parents who buy them for themselves should be more diligent about not letting their kids play with harmful things, and perhaps even don’t buy them if you’re not confident in your ability to keep them out of your child’s mouth.

    That being said, what has the manufacturer done wrong, and why on earth does this require government involvement? The answers are nothing, and it doesn’t. Cue grumbling about personal and parental responsibility.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      The manufacturer should sue the CPSC to obtain the list of names of parents who violated the warning not to allow children to access these adult products. Then sue all those adults for the damages they have caused because they violated the warning.

    • DaveInBillsburg says:

      My wife had a bunch of neodymium magnets for she used for her crafting business, those were super strong and the strength increased when they were stacked together. These were small round magnets that you would find on the back of a button or fridge magnet. She had about 300 of them, they were stacked together. She went to pull some off and the stack bent in the middle and snapped back and pinched her finger. The magnets were so strong it took a chunk of skin off when they snapped together.

      After that they were locked in a box and up on a high shelve to keep away from the kids.

  5. Bodger says:

    I’ve already got two sets of Buckeyballs (which came with prominent ‘not for children’ warnings two years ago) but now I feel as if I need to go and buy at least two more. Oddly I get an irrational urge to also buy kitchen knives, toxic cleaners, electrical appliances, flammable liquids, and a few other items that will probably be on the ban list if everything a child might think ‘fun to play with’ is blocked from sale. But at least this absolves parents from any responsibility for watching out for their children’s playthings so I can’t be all bad, can it?

  6. Jauryn says:

    Hmm…I have to admit, I’ve never wanted Buckyballs until now. They looked fun and I always considered getting some although the price always made me hesitate; but now that they’re less readily available I really want a set now.

    Also…Maybe somebody should just tell kids/teens to not be stupid and put powerful magnets in their mouths (more so teens and just keep them away from the little kids). First they took our Kinder Eggs, and now our magnets are being attacked… what’s next?

    • Jane_Gage says:

      I was always afraid someone older than myself would touch them and relocate them closer to my computer, nuking it.

  7. Quirk Sugarplum says:

    Maybe Maxfield & Oberton can get around this by selling a child degaussing tool? Then it’ll be the parents’ fault if they don’t routinely neutralize their kiddies before bedtime.

  8. CheritaChen says:

    Uh…Buckyballs are only one high-profile brand of the same type of product. I bought a set of a (reportedly higher-quality) competing manufacturer’s product for my mom last year, and she loves them.

    Why are these any different than any other item that is potentially dangerous and not marketed to children? The CPSC still allows antifreeze, knives, aspirin, razors, guns, and any number of other stuff that kids probably think would make cool toys to be sold. Why is the company to blame for the ignorance of parents?

  9. edicius is an acquired taste says:

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

    I mean, seriously, they clearly say ‘NOT FOR CHILDREN’. Let’s ban knives too. Maybe power cords as well. Or anything made of glass. Why not ban ALL magnets? This is ridiculous.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      Like they banned chemistry sets? I had one of those when I was a kid, and I’m still alive.

      • edicius is an acquired taste says:

        George Carlin had it right.

        “Grown-ups have taken all the fun out of being a kid just to save a few thousand lives.”

  10. mikedt says:

    Shouldn’t the safety of the product be left up to the parent? Lots of things are marketed to adults that are harmful to children and the CPCS seems content to leave them on the market. How many children drown every year in swimming pools? Are we to outlaw them because of adult neglect?

  11. Jeff asks: "WTF could you possibly have been thinking? says:

    Would I be out of line to post a link to some knock-offs that are still available?

  12. Biblio Fiend says:

    This makes me sad. I discovered Buckyballs on ThinkGeek shortly after my daughter was born three and a half years ago and thought they looked like a lot of fun. With the understanding that I probably wouldn’t be able to keep them out of my daughter’s hands until she was truly old enough for them (my apartment is small without a lot of decent storage) I was prepared to wait until she reached the pre-teen years and was old enough to understand the concept of “eating these things could kill you” to buy a set – I’m a pretty patient person. Guess I’ll have to continue to be patient until the concept of personal responsibility comes back into vogue.

  13. Rubberduckgrrl says:

    I ♥ my BuckyBalls, but I have never seen them marketed to kids. Only to adults. The company has complied with CPSC with labeling every time asked and has not violated any marketing rules. Why should the company be blamed if stupid parents are giving their kids products they shouldn’t have? This isn’t a case like the Weebles – which were redesigned to be larger because they are made for kids and children were choking. THESE ARE FOR ADULTS.

  14. Republicrat says:

    The “Consumers Union” is siding against consumers? Really?

    Why can’t you guys advocate education and common sense rather than advocating the diminishment of consumer rights and our freedom to responsibly use products we wish to buy?

  15. tz says:

    Hey, maybe the kid with the lemonade stand is also endangering children…

    Children can get to a lot of things. The CPSC is doing the wrong thing unless they are going to ban every strong magnet (like many on refrigerators).

    They are not “harmful magnetic products”. Anything can be harmful if misused.

  16. Pete the Geek says:

    So when is CPSC going to go after retailers that sell knives, bleach, lawn mowers, ladders, sling shots, shotguns, unicycles and cars? All of these adult items are dangerous when used by a child. Feel free to add to my list.

    • 180CS says:

      Exactly. By this logic, you should need to be carded in order to use any dining utensils except for a spork.

      Actually, scratch that, let’s include sporks, because you could choke on one. In fact, why not just ban eating? You could accidentally choke to death on a noodle.

  17. Ben says:

    Let the whining begin!

  18. Makrel_Johnson says:

    Darwinism.

  19. DuckNCover says:

    I honestly don’t know how I made it to 40 considering all the dangers in my life. I survived pull cords on window blinds, rolling baby walkers, small Weebles and Fisher Price Little People, lawn darts, and riding a bike without a helmet. Though I must confess my parents never let me have a Big Wheel because we lived on a busy street with no place to safely ride one. Holy cow, parenting? Who’d have guessed?

    And if my older sister and I had toys that were not age-appropriate for my brother we were told to keep them away from him. If we didn’t, the toy was taken away. We learned quickly.

    • 180CS says:

      But what about BLANKETS?! You could SUFFOCATE AND DIE IN THEM!!! :O

      Quick, to the ban mobile to bank the blankets!

  20. Jack T Ripper says:

    Bah… Personal responsibility is somebody else’s job anyway, right? I mean, if we had to take the consequences for our own stupidity, then what kind of life would that be?

    I say we jump on the bandwagon and get some other products off the shelves which could harm children if they use them in a manner other than recommended. Forks, scissors, box cutters, earrings, finger rings, keys, bottle caps, lighters, usb thumb drives, coins, and toothpicks. And those are just the items I have on my desk. Just wait till I go through a Target and start making a list of the items which could be dangerous. I’ll decimate the toy aisle in a matter of minutes.

    Bottom line is that EVERYTHING is dangerous if you don’t use it right. I can kill you with a fluffy bunny. I can maim you with a nintendo controller. I can eviscerate you with fingernail clippers. Should we start banning the sale of everything that irresponsible parents let their kids get hurt with? Bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller blades… What kind of a world would that be? Buck up, buttercup. Life is dangerous. Nobody gets out alive anyway, so why are people so uptight about shit like this?

  21. superaven says:

    So does this mean CPSC will start calling for the recall of cigarettes due to second hand smoke and teen smoking?

  22. PunditGuy says:

    Am I the only one who thought this was a lot of hoopla over Buckminsterfullerene?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminsterfullerene

  23. Sunshine1970 says:

    I have a set of these. Love them, but it’s quite obvious these are not for children. The package even said so. I think the company has done all they can on these, and now it’s up to the parents and other adults to keep them away from children.

  24. illusionmajik says:

    Yep. Bought 2 sets yesterday from the website.
    If it’s always been an adult toy, then what the heck are adults doing letting them play with the damned things

  25. lawnmowerdeth says:

    They want to ban them because of a dozen incidents in three years. More kids than that get hurt by household items every single day.

  26. dush says:

    You know all those knives you have in your kitchen that aren’t marketed to children but could really hurt those precious little kids? Recall them! Ban them! Come on CPSC, do the right thing to keep children safe!

    • dcatz says:

      The CPSC is another useless bureaucracy that does not do anything but create unnecessary and burdensome hassle on people trying to make an honest living.

      These are the same cowards that are hell bent on shutting down small/independent toy manufacturers because they cannot afford to comply with the ridiculous regulations and testing requirements (due to laws that were bought and paid for by the large toy companies in a sweeping example of regulatory capture).

      These are the people that are trying to force tablesaw manufacturers, under threat of violence, to use a patented technology to “stop” the saw if it detects a finger (at the behest of the inventor, a shyster, of course). They would be forced, under threat of violence, to pay expensive patent royalties to a private company because a few people are too damn stupid to understand that a tablesaw is not a toy and that it is dangerous.

      A product being dangerous is not justification for using violence to ban it. If the product is dangerous, but it has warning labels that clearly explain that danger, then the manufacturer has done nothing wrong. Only if the manufacturer misleads the public about the danger of their product, either deliberately or negligently, can one make a legitimate claim as to a wrong being done. This is as silly as requiring gun manufacturers to put warning labels that guns can kill on their guns.

  27. Banished to the Corner says:

    Nope, I have to agree with the company with this one. If they truly do only market to adults, they have the right to continue to market and sell them. There are many products (almost any power tool), foods, ‘entertainment’ that are not meant to be around children; it’s the PARENTS responsibility to be sure their children don’t get them.

    Now, I mean young type. I know teens and pre-teens are not going to listen to parents, but at some point in their lives they need to learn that stupidity can be very painful. I think I speak for most adults when I say we all needed to learn this – some learned in/by teens, some a bit later. They should know not to stick small, non-food items in their mouth.

  28. MathMan aka Random Talker says:

    So how do I write to the CPSC to complain about the CPSC’s administrative complaints. As others have said, Buckyballs is just one brand of the magnet. I suspect there is a behind-the-scenes reasons as to why Maxfield & Oberton (“M&O”) are specifically being targeted. Maybe it’s just because M&O has the largest marketshare and by targeting them the CPSC will be able to have the biggest affect on the industry. Either way, it’s b.s. M&O have responded the CPSC’s concerns in the past, appropriately I feel, and really, this stuff is not for kids. I swear Consumerist had something about these Buckyballs in the past. Either way, I’m 32, have a set, and I keep them with MY desk toys at home. When my nieces and nephews come to visit, I put the Buckyballs away but keep the other toys like, Rubik cudes, out.

  29. DaveInBillsburg says:

    I’d be more concerned about my kids playing with them too close to the computer, maybe the CPSC should be worried about that application.

  30. Cerne says:

    The CPSC and consumer’s union are out of line here. These products are clearly meant for adults and marketed as such. We don’t outlaw every product with the potential to harm children.

    • RAEdwards says:

      I agree. Why doesn’t Consumers Union call for a gun ban then? They are dangerous in the hands of children if not monitored.

      I know, I can’t compare a BuckyBall to a gun, but still, there’s a lot of things out there dangerous for children. We don’t ban all of them.

      • Kuri says:

        Well, it’s much easier to go after something a nerd likes than it is to go after something a gun enthusiast likes.

        • NickRayko says:

          Beware nerd rage! They’re responsible for this interweb thingy, and can put it to good use when properly motivated.

  31. 180CS says:

    In other words, we should ban magnets! And then sue the earth for daring to have polarity!

    (Now the really sad thing is that there have to be at LEAST a few seemingly functional members of society who somehow would see what I wrote, and think it’s a good idea)

  32. Rick Sphinx says:

    How do we get rid of them! I got some as a gift, but fear thowing away, and animals eating them.
    I have pets, but they sit in a drawer, don’t use as I may drop some and not know it. Very dangerous “toy”.

    • JReedNet says:

      They are only dangerous if you try to eat them, so as an adult I suspect you can avoid that temptation?

      If you have given them to children, the way to get rid of them is to take them away from your children, because they should have never had them in the first place. Take them to work and put them on your desk or something, and enjoy this as an adult.

    • micahdg says:

      You can mail them to me. I’ll “dispose” of them for you :P

    • RvLeshrac says:

      So dangerous. I mean, if you’re an idiot and drop the MAGNETS THAT STICK TO EACH OTHER and then don’t pick them up, your pets might eat them! I mean, forget that your pets could eat pretty much any of the thousands of other incredibly dangerous things you have sitting around, like chocolate or pistachios or drain cleaner, *THIS* is what you need to worry about.

  33. Jimmy37 says:

    So is the guberment going to arrest the parents for child abuse because they let them have an adult toy? Will they arrest the teens and tweens for stealing their parents toys, or for lying about their age?

  34. Kuri says:

    Funny that this is a scientific toy.

  35. zippy says:

    I have some of these from a competitor, and when I got the first set, I got my kids together (both teens), showed them the balls, and explained how dangerous they were if used incorrectly. I told them the story of the teen who had been trying to use them as a faux tongue piercing and almost died and ended up in the hospital. That it was very important to make sure none ever got lost on the floor lest the cat or a visiting small child find them. The balls are mine, and they know they’re not supposed to use them, but they are teens, I wanted to make sure that if they chose to be naughty, they would know enough not to have it end in tragedy.

    BTW, cow magnets are great for tracking down small lost things that are attracted by magnets. Just roll across the floor and magically that lost needle or magnetic ball reappears. Magically. Yes, really.

    Now I may have to try to grab the ones I was trying to gradually collect all at once. Damn.

  36. Rexy does not like the new system says:

    I swear, parenting tests should be required before breeding is allowed. It’s the job of the f&!#ing parents to keep them out of the reach of children. The teens are just idiots (but then again, almost every teen is), and I say that as a 19 year old.

  37. Phillyman says:

    I was the one who wrote into the Consumerist last night. Just an update, I emailed the team at Buckyballs and expressed my disappointment in Groupon canceling my order. I suggested that they match the deal on their website, so we can reorder. While the Groupon deal was for 50% off with free shipping, they did issue a 45% off coupon with free shipping. Just go to their website and use Promo code “SuckItGroupon”.

  38. Jawaka says:

    Lets ban the sale of bleach, ammonia, household cleansers, etc… as well since I’m sure there’s been more than a few Darwin Award kids out there who have drinken those as well.

  39. RayanneGraff says:

    Stupid kids, and stupid lazy parents. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  40. SilverBlade2k says:

    This is just plain stupid, and the company behind Buckyballs/Buckycubes should take legal action against the CPSC.

    There are warnings ALL over those toys, and on the websites, stating that the ‘toy’ is not meant for younger children, and you take risks if you swallow them.

    I thought the point of the warnings on packages was to protect the producer of the product from lawsuits/litigation from individuals and organizations? I guess not….

    Lets go ahead and ban knives, cause we all know kids always have access to knives in the home.

    Lets also ban pencils and pens – 2 more tools that can harm people.

    Oh, lets also ban paperclips – because they can be bent to create a stabbing weapon. Lets also ban cooking pans – they can also cause a child harm.

    Lets ban stoves that are not magnetic induction tops as kids are prone to burning themselves on blazing hot stove tops.

    Lets see..what else. screw drivers? gone. Automatic drills? gone.

    OH, OH..lets ban all forms of vehicles, as thousands of people die each year in car accidents.

    Lets just all live in a bubble and expect the government to protect us from any/all harm.

  41. Cor Aquilonis says:

    Oh, man. I had been planning on giving the extra super-strong rare earth magnets from my magnetic spice rack project to my nephew for him to eat. Now I guess I can’t. Oh well, I suppose I’ll just pour myself a refreshing cup of toilet bowl cleaner and go back to watching TV with a plastic bag over my head. Derp.

  42. makoto says:

    The most serious issue I see here is teenagers. Teenagers are stupid. I was a teenager once and I was stupid and did the whole “pierce your tongue” thing with the magnets and someone hit me on the back and they came lose. I almost swallowed one of them. What if I had swallowed both? I would not have realized the damage they could have caused. Regardless of who they market it to, teenagers are still doing this.

    Parents can stop their little children from putting things in their mouth and keep their pets from eating things by not keeping them around or on the floor but they can’t leash their teenagers in from putting magnets in their mouth. If they are for sale and don’t require any kind of verification of age (and even if they do), stupid teenagers are going to think it’s just awesome they can pretend to have a pierced tongue.

    They should make their magnets larger. Much larger. In order to avoid any further issues. These things are currently so tiny they resemble beads of mercury when you drop them to the floor. Good luck picking them up by the way. They roll into every crevasse. You’ll never find them all.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      Solution: DON’T FUCKING DROP THEM ON THE GROUND.
      Solution: DON’T FUCKING PUT THEM IN YOUR MOUTH.
      Solution: FOLLOW THE FUCKING WARNINGS ON THE LABEL, AND DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE.

    • Cor Aquilonis says:

      While I disagree with nearly every aspect of your reasoning, I do agree that we should make enormous magnets. That would be awesome! AWESOME I SAY!*

      ProTip: You find a dropped magnet in carpet by running metal across the floor, like a metal ruler. The magnet will stick to the metal.

      *Furthermore, I propose we use the enormous magnets to construct enormous particle accelerators, because it would be TOTALLY AWESOME!

  43. micahdg says:

    Regarding the canceled groupon orders, the Buckyballs company is offering 45% off all their products to anyone using the following coupon code: suckitgroupon

    • Cerne says:

      Thank you very much. Just ordered a couple of kits using that code.

    • BluePinto says:

      I hadn’t decided to make the leap until that coupon. Thank you for sharing!

    • jlknuth says:

      I guess any publicity is good publicity. I had no intention of buying Buckyballs right now. But this article lead me to this coupon code, and now my set is on its way.

  44. Cacao says:

    Next you’ll hear of 2 men being detained at the Canadian border for trying to bring in a few packages of Bucky balls.