The Consumer Product Safety Commission is suing the maker of popular high-powered magnet "desk toys" to get them to stop selling their products, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.
The magnets can pierce holes in the intestines, and some children have needed multiple surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. Since 2009, there have been at least a dozen ingestions of the magnets in Buckyballs toys.
The commission asked the makers of Buckyballs and Buckycubes to stop selling their products, but they refused, according Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the federal agency.
"We're doing this to keep children safe," Wolfson said. "We want to prevent future surgeries."
A spokesman for Maxfield & Oberton, the maker of Buckyballs and Buckycubes, said the company "will fight this vigorously."
"There are half a billion magnets out there, and unfortunately there are some people who have misused the product," said Andrew Frank. "We market these products to adults age 14 and above, and there are warning labels on the product."
There are warning labels to keep the magnets away from children on five places on each box, and in accompanying instructions. A public awareness campaign about magnet safety with videos distributed by the government and a special website (www.magnetsafety.com) was launched several months ago, with the full cooperation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the company said.
The company's website also has warnings posted next to the images of the products.
"Obviously the bureaucrats see danger everywhere, and those responsible people -- like our company who have vigorously promoted safety and appropriate use of our products -- gets put out of business by an unfair and arbitrary process," said Craig Zucker, founder and CEO of Maxfield and Oberton. "I don't understand how and why they did this without following their own rules before allowing us to make our case. It almost seems like they simply wanted to put our products and industry out of business."
Since 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 200 reports of ingestion of magnets of all kinds, Wolfson said. The analysis released Wednesday showed more than 20 ingestions were of high-powered, "rare earth" magnets.
"We have worked with the company over the years," Wolfson said. "We did a recall with them in 2010. Yet the injuries still happened. In 2011 we worked with them on the education of consumers. Incidents still happened. So we've reached a point where we really do need to take stronger action, which we're doing. We're filing a lawsuit."
Several retailers, including Amazon and Brookstone, have agreed to stop selling the magnets.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission rarely files such administrative complaints -- the last time it did was 11 years ago against the maker of BB guns, Wolfson said.
"So many parents don't know about this hazard," Wolfson said. "They buy the products for themselves. Maybe their child gets access to it. Maybe they give it to their child.
"And the parents just need to know that two or more magnets are swallowed by a child, even a teenager -- we've had incidents with both young children and teenagers -- it can get caught in the small intestine, form an infection and then emergency surgery is needed. We want to avoid that."
Wolfson added that the agency is continuing to look at the safety of other brands of small, high-powered "rare earth" magnets.
Meaghin Jordan, whose son swallowed high-powered magnets, said she was "relieved" to hear about the complaint. When he was almost 2 years old, her son Braylon swallowed eight magnets and spent two months in the hospital, most of that time in intensive care.
"This is wonderful," she said. "I'm very glad they're taking action. If they can't sell them, then no one else can get hurt."