Toy Remains in Stores After Child's Death
Saturday, April 1, 2006
The company that makes the popular Magnetix toy building sets is not pulling the products off store shelves or changing its safety warnings or package labels despite a voluntary recall announced yesterday by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Citing the death of a 21-month-old after he swallowed several magnets that fell out of the toy's plastic pieces, the CPSC said the product was "unsuitable for young children." The agency said it knew of 34 incidents involving small magnets, including four serious injuries involving children from 3 to 8 years old.
The voluntary recall affects about 3.8 million packages in homes across the United States. Rose Art Industries Inc. said it would offer replacement toys suitable for children younger than 6.
However, the company said the recall would not affect packages now on store shelves.
"We believe these products meet all federal and international safety standards and are safe and fun for kids age 6 and older," said company spokeswoman Jennifer Zerczy. "If you look at the package, it very clearly is labeled for children 6 and over, and there is a small parts warning on the package as well."
The warning says the toy contains small parts and is not intended for children under 3. Zerczy said it is up to parents to buy age-appropriate toys and supervise their children at play.
Safety commission spokeswoman Julie M. Vallese said: "The company has told the CPSC that quality-control changes and enhancements have been made to the products. While that may very well be true, the agency will continue to investigate to make sure no products in the marketplace pose this same hazard."
Vallese said the problem is not that the product breaks into small parts but that it contains small magnets. "They are small but powerful and a true hazard," she said. "If these magnets come together in your system, they can cause a serious injury."
That's what happened to 21-month-old Kenneth W. Sweet Jr., of Redmond, Wash., whose brother received a Magnetix set as a present for his 10th birthday on Nov. 13, 2005.
The older children were allowed to play with the set only when Kenny was not around, and they were told to store it well out of his reach, said the children's mother, Penny Sweet. About 10 days after his brother's birthday, Kenny got sick. Penny Sweet initially thought it was the flu. When his condition worsened, she took him to the hospital, where he died within hours.
An autopsy revealed the cause: Kenny had swallowed eight magnets; they were in two groupings that bonded to each other through the walls of his intestines, causing a fatal blockage.
Penny Sweet said each of the gray magnets was smaller than an unpopped popcorn kernel, and that they must have fallen out of the toy pieces while the older children were playing on the sandy gray carpet. No one noticed the loose magnets or saw Kenny eating them, she said.
The CPSC said three children, ages 3 to 8, had intestinal perforations that required surgery and hospitalization in intensive care. A 5-year-old inhaled two magnets that were surgically removed from his lung.
Sweet said yesterday that she believed Rose Art needed to do more than a replacement program. "It's scary" that Magnetix will still be sold, she said. "As a bare minimum, there needs to be a warning label on the package to make sure parents understand that if the toy accidentally breaks or a magnet comes loose and it is swallowed, the child needs emergency medical care."
Sweet and several other parents have sued Rose Art, which was acquired last year by Mega Bloks Inc. of Canada, the second-largest construction toy company after the Lego Group. Rose Art's Zerczy declined to talk about the lawsuits.
For more information on the recall, call Rose Art at 800-799-7122 or visit the company's Web site (http:/