Neodymium magnet toys

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Neodymium magnet spheres constructed in the shape of a cube
Neodymium magnet spheres used to form different shapes
"Bucky Ball" toy neodymium magnet spheres in close-up

Neodymium magnets, usually small spheres, have been manufactured as educational toys, stress relief products, and an artistic medium.

In the United States, as a result of an estimated 2,900 emergency room visits between 2009 and 2013 due to "ball shaped" and/or "high powered" magnets, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is actively[when?] trying to ban them through rulemaking.[1][full citation needed][needs update]

Product positioning controversy[edit]

In 2009, a number of US companies decided to repackage sphere magnets and sell them as toys. Despite existing toy regulations at the time, Maxfield & Oberton, maker of Buckyballs, told the New York Times that they saw the product on YouTube and repackaged them as Buckyballs.[2]


Buckyballs launched at New York International Gift Fair in 2009 and sold in the hundreds of thousands before the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall on packaging labeled 13+.[3] According to the CPSC, 175,000 units had been sold to the public. Fewer than 50 were returned.[4] Buckyballs labeled "Keep Away From All Children" were not recalled.

Subsequently, Maxfield & Oberton changed all mentions of “toy” to “desk toy”, positioning the product as a stress-reliever for adults and restricted sales from stores that sold primarily children's products.[5]

Further investigation by the CPSC published in 2012 found an increasing trend of magnet ingestion incidents in young children and teens since 2009. Incidents involving older children and teens were unintentional and the result of using the magnets to mimic body piercings such as tongue studs. [6] The commission cited hidden complications if more than one magnet becomes attached across tissue inside the body.

Another recall was issued for Buckyballs in 2012 along other similar products marketed as toys in the USA. Recalls and administrative complaints were filed against other similar US companies. Maxfield & Oberton refused the recall and continued selling their desktop toys. The company launched a political campaign against the CPSC, and Craig Zucker, the company's co-founder, debated the safety commission on FOX news.[7] On December 27, 2012, Maxfield & Oberton filed a Certificate of Cancellation with the Secretary of State of Delaware, declaring that the company no longer exists.

New standards[edit]

On March 12, 2013 the International Consumer Magnets Association formed a new subcommittee under ASTM for the development of product and marketing standards for all high-powered consumer magnetic products.

In the absence of an existing standard for magnetic products outside of toys, the US CPSC issued a new rulemaking proposal in 2012 that purports to ban all loose high powered magnet sets from being sold across the United States, regardless of their application. The CPSC continues to push forward with the topic despite strong consumer opposition,[8] actively lobbying medical associations, consumer associations, the press and health agencies outside of the US for support.

Safety controversy[edit]

A pattern of Buckyballs

The swallowing of small magnets such as neodymium magnetic spheres can result in intestinal injury requiring surgery. The magnets attract each other through the walls of the stomach and intestine, perforating the bowel.[9][10] The Centers for Disease Control reported 33 cases requiring surgery and one death.[11][12] The magnets have been swallowed by both toddlers and teens (who were using the magnets to pretend to have tongue piercings).[13] Defenders of the toy say that the rate of injury is approximately 1 injury per 100,000 Buckyball sets and less than 1 injury per 21.5 million individual magnet pieces. The magnets are marketed to adults, with labels warning of their danger to children.[14]

United States[edit]

In June 2012, due to a letter by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum,[15] the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission filed administrative complaints, attempting to ban the sale of Buckyballs[16] and Zen Magnets.[17] Zen Magnets LLC is the first company to ever receive this sort of complaint without record of injury.[18] In November 2012, Buckyballs announced that they had stopped production due to a CPSC lawsuit.[19]

In March 2016, Zen magnets (a maker/importer of neodymium magnet toys) won in a major 2014 court hearing concerning the danger posed by "defective" warning labels on their spherical magnets. It was decided by a DC court[20] (CPSC Docket No: 12-2) that “Proper use of Zen Magnets and Neoballs creates no exposure to danger whatsoever.”[21]


On 15 November 2012, following an interim ban in New South Wales,[22] a permanent ban on the sale of neodymium magnets went into effect throughout Australia.[23]

New Zealand[edit]

On 23 January 2013, Consumer Affairs Minister Simon Bridges announced a ban on the import and sale of neodymium magnet sets in New Zealand, effective from 24 January 2013.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Safety Standard for Magnet Sets-Final Rule
  2. ^ Martin, Andrew (August 16, 2012). "For Buckyballs Toys, Child Safety Is a Growing Issue". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Buckyballs® High Powered Magnets Sets Recalled by Maxfield and Oberton Due to Violation of Federal Toy Standard, Consumer Product Safety Commission, May 27, 2010.
  4. ^ Ahmari, Sohrab (Aug 30, 2013). "Craig Zucker: What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-09-01. 
  5. ^ Buckyballs Safety Compliance, Maxfield and Oberton.
  6. ^ "CPSC Warns High-Powered Magnets and Children Make a Deadly Mix". Retrieved 2014-07-15. 
  7. ^ Buckyballs fight back, The Washington Post, August 2, 2012.
  8. ^ CPSC Safety Standard for Magnet Sets - Public Comments,, November 19, 2012.
  9. ^ Child has bowel surgery after swallowing magnetic balls, Hamilton Spectator, March 13, 2013.
  10. ^ Young kids can swallow magnets, seriously damage intestines, doctors warn Global News Toronto, March 12, 2013.
  11. ^ Brooks, Leonard J; Dunn, Paul (2009-03-31). "Magnetic Toys Can Hurt". Business & Professional Ethics for Directors, Executives & Accountants (Fifth ed.). South-Western College Pub;. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-324-59455-3. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  12. ^ "CPSC Safety Alert - Ingested Magnets Can Cause Serious Intestinal Injuries" (PDF). U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-03. Retrieved 2010-07-23. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is aware of at least 33 cases of children being injured from ingesting magnets. A 20-month-old died, and at least 19 other children from 10 months to 11 years old required surgery to remove ingested magnets. 
  13. ^ Feds file suit against Buckyballs, retailers ban product, USA Today, July 26, 2012.
  14. ^ Magnetic Buckyballs toys discontinued, CNN Health, Nov. 2, 2012.
  15. ^ "Gillibrand Urges Feds to Ban the Sale of Dangerous High-Powered Toy Magnets". Kirsten Gillibrand. June 19, 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-01-07. 
  16. ^ "CPSC Sues Maxfield & Oberton Over Hazardous Buckyball". 
  17. ^ "CPSC Sues Zen Magnets". 
  18. ^ "Federal agency targets Denver magnet company with no history of injury". 
  19. ^ Bellini, Jarrett (November 2, 2012). "Bye bye, Buckyballs". CNN. 
  20. ^ "Recall Lawsuits: Adjudicative Proceedings". U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved 2016-06-16. 
  21. ^ "3/29/16 Update: Whoa. We won | Zen Magnets". Retrieved 2016-06-16. 
  22. ^ "Interim ban on novelty products with small magnets - NSW Fair Trading". Government of New South Wales. 23 August 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2013. Mr Roberts said magnets from novelty products and executive toys had been swallowed by young children, while some older children and teenagers had swallowed magnets after using them as imitation tongue or lip piercings. 
  23. ^ "VIC: Update: Permanent ban on small, high powered magnets". Product Safety Australia. 
  24. ^ "Ban on the sale of high powered magnet sets". New Zealand Government, 23 January 2013.