Magnetic Buckyballs toys discontinued
Maxfield and Oberton, the maker of Buckyballs, has defended its efforts to keep the magnetic desk toys away from children.
November 2nd, 2012
11:16 AM ET

Magnetic Buckyballs toys discontinued

The popular Buckyballs and Buckycubes magnetic desk toys will be discontinued, its manufacturer said, blaming what it called "baseless and relentless legal badgering" from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"It's time to bid a fond farewell to the world's most popular adult desk toys," Maxfield and Oberton, the maker of Buckyballs, said on its website this week. "That's right: We're sad to say that Balls and Cubes have a one-way ticket to the Land-of-Awesome-Stuff-You-Should-Have-Bought-When-You-Had-the-Chance."

A limited number of the toys are still available, but no more will be made after they sell out, the company said.

In July, the Consumer Product Safety Commission sued Maxfield and Oberton in an attempt to get the company to stop selling the toys, saying they are hazardous to children. When children swallow the powerful magnets, they can pierce holes in the intestines, the commission said, and some children have required multiple surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. Since 2009, officials said, there have been at least a dozen ingestions of the Buckyballs magnets.

"CPSC stands behind the case at this time," commission spokesman Scott Wolfson said Friday. "We continue to allege and believe that Buckyballs and Buckycubes are dangerous and defective for young children as well as teenagers."

Internet videos direct older children and teenagers how to use the toys to mimic tongue or cheek piercings, he said, and some have ended up ingesting them.

At the time the suit was filed, Maxfield and Oberton spokesman Andrew Frank said the company would "fight this vigorously," noting that while "some people have misused the product," the toys were marketed to those aged 14 and up, and carried warning labels.

But "we made a tough decision after a lot of thought based on how to protect the integrity of the business, the brand, and begin to move forward," Frank said in an e-mail Friday. "It was time for our team to start focusing on the future and providing innovative products for our loyal customers. We will continue to fight the CPSC and sell our other products."

Wolfson said the Consumer Product Safety Commission did not single out Maxfield and Oberton.

"We have seen incidents with a variety of different brands (of magnetic toys)," he said. "That's why our approach to this hazard has not been exclusive to one company."

Eleven of 13 manufacturers agreed to stop making, importing and selling the toys. Maxfield and Oberton and a Colorado company called Zen Magnets did not, and the commission filed suit against them, Wolfson said. Both suits continue.

Last month, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition said warning labels on Buckyballs were ineffective.  The group released the results of a new survey of more than 1,700 doctors, who reported at least 480 toy magnet ingestions in the past decade, with 204 occurring in the past year.

“The numbers have skyrocketed post-labeling,” said Dr. Mark Gilger, a pediatric gastroenterologist who helped author the study. “There’s just many examples of people ignoring the labels, or people who haven’t paid attention to them bringing them to their home inadvertently.”

Gilger said young children sometimes think the toys are candy, and older children and teens use the toys to mimic piercings.

Doctors have said "the injury pattern they are seeing in hospitals (after ingestion) is like a gunshot wound to the gut with no sign of entry or exit," Wolfson said.

Frank last month defended Maxfield and Oberton's efforts to keep the toys away from children, and the company said in a statement it does not sell its products to children and has a strict policy of not selling to stores that do sell toys exclusively to kids.

The statement also noted the company’s efforts to educate its customers, including an informational safety website it developed.  The company said it has strongly advocated for a public education campaign sponsored by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, as the commission has done with other products that posed risks to children.

Zen Magnets acknowledged in a Reddit posting Thursday that "the magnet fight is probably lost."

With Buckyballs' demise, "This makes Zen the last magnet sphere company standing in the US for now," the post says. "We'll keep fighting as long as we can."

Zen Magnets was the first company to receive an administrative complaint from the Consumer Product Safety Commission without a record of injuries, as the company has had no ingestions of its products, said founder Shihan Qu.

"We've always sold online, where it's not easy for kids to buy anyway," he said.

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