While much of the concern over this week's recall of over 9 million toys has been about lead paint, we don't want to lose sight of the serious problem that caused the majority of these toys (7.3 million Mattel Polly Pocket play sets and 345,000 Batman and One PIece toys) to be recalled: powerful magnets that can seriously injure or kill a child when swallowed. This isn't the first recall involving magnetic toys; in April, an earlier recall of Magnetix toys was expanded to cover nearly 8 million products. And last year, 2.4 million Polly Pocket sets were recalled; many of those are still in consumers' homes, and were included again in this week's recall.
In April, the CPSC issued a safety alert about the serious dangers magnets pose to children. As the agency pointed out, "small magnets can kill children if two or more are swallowed. If two or more magnets or magnetic components or a magnet and another metal object (such as a small metal ball) are swallowed separately, they can attract one another through intestinal walls. This traps the magnets in place and can cause holes (perforations), twisting and/or blockage of the intestines, infection, blood poisoning (sepsis), and death. When multiple magnets are ingested surgery is required to remove the magnets and sometimes sections of the intestines need to be removed."
Given the ongoing problems with these toys, and the potential for serious injury or death, we continue to recommend that parents avoid all magnetic toys if there are young children in their home. We also recommend caution when purchasing products made for adults that may contain strong magnets (such as those used on some bulletin boards). Many of these are small and colorful and could easily be swallowed by children.
Standards organization ASTM International is considering changing its toy safety standard to eliminate embedded magnets in parts that are small enough to fit in a small parts tester -- a gauge used for screening choking hazards available at most baby products stores. The safety standard may also include a tougher durability test for toys with magnets to ensure they can't be dislodged by rough child play.
If you suspect that your child has swallowed a magnet, follow these guidelines from the CPSC:
- Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect your child may have swallowed a magnet.
- Look for non-specific abdominal symptoms - abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, etc.
- Note that objects in x-rays may appear as a single object that could actually be multiple magnetic pieces separated by trapped intestinal walls.
- Keep small magnets and small pieces containing magnets away from young children who might mistakenly, or intentionally, swallow them.
- Look out for loose magnetic pieces; regularly inspect toys and children’s play areas for missing or dislodged magnets.
- Check www.cpsc.gov to make sure your children’s magnetic toys are not recalled products.