After death and recalls, feds ban high-powered magnets

Consumer advocates for years have tried to rid the market of tiny high-powered magnets used in a variety of toys and games. Between 2009 and 2013, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 3,000 children ended up in an emergency room after swallowing magnets. The results can be deadly as the magnets, which draw together with great force, pull through the gastrointestinal system.

The years of lobbying resulted this week in the commission creating a set of rules for how magnets must be made, functionally banning the types that have been blamed for injuries and the death of a toddler.

"High-powered magnet sets are hazardous to young children, who have mouthed and ingested these magnets," the CPSC said in a statement. "The magnets also pose a serious risk to teens and tweens, who have used them to create mock lip, tongue, and nose piercings."

Once the new rules take effect sometime next year, it will be illegal to manufacture, import or sell the older-style magnet sets. The CPSC said some of the magnets that have been sold are 37 times as powerful as what will be allowed going forward. The new magnets will also have to be larger than a special small parts cylinder.

"These are not your grandmother's harmless refrigerator magnets," Ed Mierzwinski, U.S. PIRG Consumer Program Director, said in a statement

The magnets drew some attention over the contentious recall of Buckyballs, which had a popular executive desk set. Earlier this year, the company settled charges filed by the CPSC and agreed to a recall and refund those who bought the magnet kits.

A coalition of consumer and health groups, including the Consumer Federation of America and Kids In Danger, issued a statement supporting the new rules.

"We applaud the CPSC for issuing this important mandatory rule. High powered magnets have caused serious injuries and a fatality to children," Rachel Weintraub, the CFA's legislative director and senior counsel said. "This rule will impact the type of magnet sets that can be sold in the future while CPSC's past enforcement actions will get these products out of people's homes and away from children who could be harmed by ingesting two or more of these magnets."

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.