Call to ban dangerous magnetic desk toys

ELOISE GIBSON
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2012
Buckyballs
ON THE WAY OUT?: These super strong magnets can cause terrible internal damage if swallowed.

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A popular grown-ups' desk toy made of super-strong magnets is likely to be banned in New Zealand because the balls can puncture children's intestines.

Buckyballs, the most popular brand, appeared in several Kiwi Christmas gift guides last year. This year safety regulators want to exile them.

More than 200 children, including two Australians, have swallowed the spheres, with many requiring surgery on their stomachs and intestines after ingesting more than one.

Rather than passing through the body, the magnets grip together and pinch soft tissue.

The 5 millimetre balls are banned in New South Wales after two 12-year-olds swallowed them.

Toddlers have mistaken them for lollies and teens have sometimes used them to mimic tongue piercings.

Retailers will be asked for feedback next week through umbrella group the Retailers' Association, however Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment product safety principal adviser Martin Rushton said officials would probably ask Consumer Affairs Minister Simon Bridges to ban them "as soon as possible". "We don't have to wait for an incident here." The ministry has already warned parents through Plunket and Safekids, said Rushton.

Warning labels on the packaging of the time-killing toy, which contains dozens of metallic balls that can be modelled and pulled apart, do not appear to have stopped kids swallowing them overseas.

They were intended for adults but could go astray and "children under the age of 36 months have a propensity to explore their environment by sticking things in their mouths", said Rushton.

"The problem with these super strong magnets is that they are . . . supplied in sets of 50 or 100 or more and if you swallow two or more they become joined across the digestive tract and, because they are so strong, won't come apart. They'll stay in place and the pressure they exert is sufficient to cause a perforated intestine. How do you put a label on something that's smaller than a pea?"

Buckyballs' New York maker Maxfield and Oberton has bitterly fought a ban by the United States' safety regulator, calling it un-American and accusing the agency of being hand-picked by President Barack Obama.

More than two million Buckyballs have been sold in the US.

Buckyballs' website says the company has reluctantly stopped making them after "baseless and relentless legal badgering" but still has thousands in stock.

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Buyers on New Zealand websites have been urging others to get in quick and beat the ban. "Apparently, a warning is not enough to stop people doing silly things and on occasions, the swallowed Buckyballs have been attracted to each other inside the body causing severe damage," said Mighty Ape customer Nigel. "You know what though - Worth it. Seriously." The items appears out of stock on New Zealand website sites such as Fishpond and Mighty Ape. Giftbob.co.nz is still selling them. A representative had only just learned of the issue and did not want to comment.

John Albertson of the Retailers' Association said members would be consulted on Monday, and safety would be a primary concern when responding to the ministry.

- Sunday Star Times

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