The Washington Post

37 ‘Buckyballs’ swallowed by toddler — latest scary magnet incident

An Oregon toddler who complained to her parents about flu-like symptoms this week had actually swallowed 37 “Buckyballs” magnets, MSNBC reports. The doctors removed the magnets from Payton Bushnell’s intestines Monday, and she is expected to make a full recovery.

A package of Buckyballs and its warning label. (AP)

Those warnings haven’t kept many kids from getting a hold of the magnets, however. In January, The Post’s Lena Sun reported on a more serious incident involving Buckyballs:

Meredith DelPrete, 10, was at school one day and did something that she said is popular among kids her age: She pretended to have a pierced tongue. The Fairfax County fifth-grader took two magnetic balls from her pocket and placed one on top of her tongue and the other on the underside. The magnets, the size of a BB, are extremely powerful. They made it look like she had a stud. She opened her mouth to show a friend.

That’s when the silver orbs rolled off.

“I could feel them in the back of my throat. I tried to get them out, but I couldn’t. So I just swallowed them,” she said in an interview this week.

That accidental swallowing led to five days at Inova Fairfax Hospital, at least 10 X-rays, three CT scans and an endoscopy. Finally, on Jan. 20, a surgeon used a metal instrument to manipulate the magnets into her appendix, avoiding major surgery. He then removed her appendix, and the magnets, doctors said.

Although magnets might seem like a harmless toy, they can be especially dangerous if a child swallows them and the toys links together in the digestive tract, Sun reports. This linking can cause a perforation of the intestines, intestinal blockage, blood poisoning or even death.

Health officials are aware of the problem and have been trying to combat it for years. In 2005, a 20-month-old boy died after he swallowed nine cylindrical magnets that came from an older sibling’s toy building set. By 2006, 19 other children were injured from magnets used in toys.

The incidents spurred the U.S. government to issue a warning about the risks of magnets used in toys. The Consumer Product Safety Commission also recalled almost 4 million Magnetix building sets. Holiday warnings about dangerous toys added magnets to the list.

And in 2010, the maker of Buckyballs issued a voluntary recall of its magnet sets to add clearer labeling. The company now puts warning labels inside and outside the boxes that the product is for children 13 and over.

But in November, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said magnets were still winding up in the hands of children far too often. From 2009 through October 2011, the commission had received 22 reports of incidents involving ball-bearing magnets, it said. In response, it issued its first product-wide warning about the magnets in a news release with manufacturers. 

Part of the problem is that magnets are everywhere. They can be found not only in children’s building sets but also jewelry and office desk toys. Buckyballs markets itself (to adults, mind you) as being for “structures, stress relief and more!”


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