WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Consumer Product Safety Commission is trying to make magnets safer for children and teens.

The new federal safety standard approved by the CPSC on Sept. 7, would require loose or separable magnets in certain magnet products to be either too large to swallow, or weak enough to reduce the risk of internal injuries when swallowed.

The new mandatory federal standard was put in place because high-powered magnets can attract each other when swallowed. This can result in perforations, twisting and/or blockage of the intestines, infection, blood poisoning, and death.

The CPSC said the injuries can occur when children and teens access and ingest the magnets, including, for example, when teens use the magnets to mimic mouth piercings and swallow them inadvertently.

One incident reported to the CPSC happened in September 2020. A health care professional reported that a 9-year-old boy placed two magnets on his lip as a pretend lip piercing. However, he accidentally swallowed them.

The boy was taken to the emergency department where an emergency endoscopy procedure took place to try to retrieve the magnets. They were unable to recover the magnets, so the boy was admitted to the hospital where he went through a series of x-ray images as the magnets progressed through his intestines.

In another incident, a 14-year-old boy got magnets stuck in his blatter. The child’s mother reported she took him to the emergency room, but he had to go through surgery to get them removed because they were calcified. The mother was concerned that her son may have permanent bladder problems now from the toy.

The CPSC had previously established a mandatory federal standard for magnet sets in 2014. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturned the standard in 2016.

In CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric’s statement, he said the court faulted the commission for using a short time frame for its injury analysis. It also raised concerns about whether the Commission had made the case that a rule was essential to protect the public.

In the latest issuing of the federal safety standard, the CPSC provided data from before the 2014 rule, during the rule, and after the rule was overturned. The data showed a decrease in injuries while the rule was in place.

The judges created an avoidable tragedy.  This is, unfortunately, a case study in how performative gestures to inhibit government regulation can put real-world families through trauma hardship.  They disregarded CPSC expertise and hurt real people—mostly children—in great numbers. 

Commissioner Richard Trumka

The 2014 ruling also criticized the CPSC for relying too heavily on incidents that only “possibly” involved magnets. That is why the CPSC developed detailed information on all known magnet ingestion incidents.

The court’s ruling also faulted the CPCS for not addressing the utility of magnet sets for scientific and math education along with research. That is why the new rule excludes products that are not designed, marketed, or intended to be used for entertainment, jewelry, mental stimulation, stress relief, or a combination of these purposes. 

Additionally, products sold and/or distributed solely to school educators, researchers, professionals, and/or commercial or industrial users exclusively for educational, research, professional, commercial, and/or industrial/purposes are outside the definition. 

Commissioner Mary Boyle said the new rule will make a difference.

It will make a difference to infants and toddlers who, as we all know, put things in their mouths in the normal course of development.  It will make a difference to older children and teens who experiment with piercings.  It will make a difference to families who would be devastated by magnet ingestion injuries to their children, which can be lifelong and life altering and even fatal.  It will make a difference to a severely burdened health care system that treats these patients. 

Mary T. Boyle

The rule goes into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register for magnet products manufactured after that date.