In the culmination of a nearly decade-long battle that pitted the U.S. government agency charged with product safety against a manufacturer of dangerous magnetic balls made from rare-earth magnets, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has taken the rare step of forcing a mandatory recall.
On August 17, 2021, the CPSC announced the recall of about 10 million Zen Magnets and Neoballs magnets, citing the serious risk of severe internal injuries that these magnets pose if swallowed. The magnets, distributed by Zen Magnets of Denver, Colorado, were sold individually and in magnet sets beginning in January 2009. They are high-powered 5 mm spherical magnets, made from the rare-earth element neodymium. When two or more of these magnets are swallowed, they are attracted to each other, or to another metal object, and become lodged in the digestive system. This can result in perforations, twisting and/or blockage of the intestines, infection, blood poisoning and death. Surgery is often required to remove the magnets, along with parts of the intestines and bowels.
According to the recall notice, Zen Magnets is aware of two children who ingested Zen Magnets and required surgery. In addition, the CPSC is aware of other reports of children and teenagers ingesting high-powered magnets and requiring surgery, including a 19-month-girl who died after ingesting similar high-powered magnets.
Between 2009 and 2018, there were two deaths in the U.S. and at least 4,500 cases of small magnet ingestion treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments, mostly involving children ages 11 months to 16 years old, according to a separate warning issued by the CPSC to parents and caregivers on the same day as the recall. Even teenagers, who generally can be trusted not to put small objects in their mouth, have ingested high-powered magnets while trying to simulate tongue, lip and nose piercings.
The recalled magnets were sold at ZenMagnets.com and Neoballs.com and certain Colorado retailers for between $12 and $264 per set, or individually for 6 to 10 cents per magnet. With respect to the sets, Zen Magnets were sold in sets of 72 and 216 with 6 spares, and 1,728 with 8 spares. Neoballs were sold in sets in the following colors: silver, gold, red, orange, green, red, blue and purple. “Zen Magnets” or “Neoballs” is printed on the packaging.
The recall notice instructs consumers to immediately stop using the magnets and contact Zen Magnets for a refund.
The recall marks the end to a sustained fight between the CPSC and Zen Magnets. Contrary to popular belief, the CPSC does not have the authority to recall unsafe products without a company’s cooperation. Since 2012, Zen Magnets refused to cooperate, and the CPSC sued Zen Magnets to force a recall. The lawsuit was the opening salvo in a messy legal battle — which the CEO of Zen Magnets characterized as a “War on Magnets” — which bounced between administrative and federal courts for nearly a decade before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit cleared the way for the CPSC, whose charge is to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths from consumer products, to do its job.
In a shocking (and strange) statement on the Zen Magnets website, the company’s CEO, Shihan Qu, responded to news of the mandatory recall by apparently mocking the serious danger that his company’s magnets pose to children and the CPSC’s efforts to protect them. He wrote: “SURPRISE! Oh CPSC, that’s so CPSC of you. Cue sitcom laugh track” These callous comments ignore the score of young children who have been injured by these dangerous and defective “toys.”
Alan M. Feldman, a co-founding partner and product liability attorney at Feldman Shepherd, said it is simply unacceptable that Zen Magnets resisted the CPSC at every turn at the risk of harming children. “While the company has repeatedly tried to hide behind the argument that its magnets are labeled for ages 14 and older, Zen Magnets clearly knows that its magnets appeal to kids and are used by them. All products must be safe for their intended, as well as expected, uses,” Feldman said.
Feldman recommends contacting a product liability attorney as soon as possible if your child is injured from ingesting any type of magnet, whether from a child’s toy or a product age-labeled for adults, such as magnetic sculptures, stress relievers and desk toys.
Feldman’s team at Feldman Shepherd, which includes partners Daniel J. Mann and Edward S. Goldis, have secured substantial recoveries on behalf of young children who were injured by swallowing tiny magnets that became separated from Magnetix toy sets. The team pursued the manufacturer of the Magnetix toy sets and in combination with the CPSC and other safety advocates helped to achieve a recall of the Magnetix product.
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