Gov't warns of risk with high-powered magnets

November 10, 2011 - 7:05 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government on Thursday warned about a growing problem with powerful ball-bearing magnets, such as those used in desktop toys for adults, and the risk they can pose to children.

So far this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 14 reports of problems with the magnets — up from seven reports last year and one in 2009. The children involved ranged in age from 18 months to 15 years old. Eleven of the children required surgery to remove the magnets.

The CPSC says that when two or more of these tiny magnets are swallowed, they can attract one another and lead to serious injuries, such as small holes in the stomach or intestines, intestinal blockage and blood poisoning.

"I have looked at X-rays of children with magnets in their intestines and you can see how they stick together and cause a severe blockage," CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said in an interview.

The symptoms can pose as a cold or the flu and send parents to the doctor multiple times before an X-ray is done revealing the blockage, Tenenbaum said.

The commission said teens are using the magnets to mimic body piercings, placing two or more magnets on opposite sides of their tongues and then accidentally swallowing them.

The desktop magnet toys, such as Buckyballs, are marketed as adult toys — gadgets with little magnets that create patterns and different shapes. The CPSC says they come with warnings that they are for adult-use only and should be kept away from children.