For the first time in 11 years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has filed an administrative enforcement proceeding against a company that makes desk toys with hundreds of small magnets for adults, seeking to have Buckyballs® and Buckycubes™ deemed a “substantial product hazard” and to prohibit their importation and distribution. In re Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, LLC, No. 12-1 (C.P.S.C., filed July 25, 2012). Information about the agency’s findings of risks to children and teens from these and similar products appears in the December 8, 2011, issue of this Report.

The complaint alleges that the products, sold by the millions in the United States, “pose a risk of magnet ingestion by children below the age of 14, who may, consistent with developmentally appropriate behavior, place single or numerous magnets in their mouth. The risk of ingestion also exists when adolescents and teens use the product to mimic piercings of the mouth, tongue, and cheek and accidentally swallow the magnets.” If more than two of the powerful magnets are ingested, they “can pinch or trap the intestinal walls or other digestive tissue between them, resulting in acute and long-term health consequences.” The complaint details several of the injuries that have occurred despite changes the company made to its warning labels. CPSC claims that the product cannot be effectively labeled or safely packaged and does not remain on adults’ desks out of the reach of children.  

CPSC claims that the product cannot be effectively labeled or safely packaged and does not remain on adults’ desks out of the reach of children.

Maxfield and Oberton has reportedly launched an online and social media campaign to try to stop CPSC from shutting down the company by means of the administrative complaint as well as by moving forward with a new rule to address the dangers of such products. Company CEO Craig Zucker apparently attended an August 2, 2012, congressional subcommittee hearing at which Republican House members grilled CPSC commissioners about the “hard-line stance” taken against the company. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) reportedly compared the Buckyballs magnets to marbles used in children’s games such as Hungry Hungry Hippos®. CPSC Chair Inez Tenenbaum apparently noted that marbles do not connect in the intestines the way rare earth magnets do. See Bloomberg BNA Product Safety & Liability Reporter, August 6, 2012.