The US Lifted a Ban on High-Powered Magnets and Childhood Magnet Accidents Climbed by 355 Percent

Accidents and hospitalizations involving high-powered magnets are on the rise, according to a new study. Here's what parents should know.

An image of high-powered magnets on a background.
Photo: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Accidents involving high-powered magnets have soared among children in recent years, and experts say a controversial court decision is to blame.

In 2016, an appeals court overturned a four-year U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ban on high-powered magnets. Since that time, calls to poison centers involving kids and high-powered magnets have skyrocketed by 444 percent, and hospitalizations have increased by 355 percent, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

High-powered magnets started popping up in children's toys about 20 years ago and in desk sets in 2009. Each magnet is more than 30 times stronger than your average kitchen magnet. The problem is that when swallowed, these high-powered magnets attract to one another and cut off blood supply to the bowel. According to Nationwide Children's Hospital, the side effects are dangerous and include obstructions, tissue necrosis, sepsis, and even death.

Another big problem for parents? The magnets look like toys. They're typically shiny and attractive to children, especially younger ones who explore the world with their mouths.

"Parents don't always know if their child swallowed something or what they swallowed—they just know their child is uncomfortable," says Leah Middelberg, MD, lead author of the study and emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children's, in a press release. "An exam and sometimes x-rays are needed to determine what's happening."

But it's not just little ones at risk, the studies' authors say. Though 62 percent of calls to poison control were for children under six years old, cases increased across all age groups between 2018 and 2019 and accounted for 39 percent of all cases since 2008.

"Serious injuries can happen when teens use these products to mimic tongue or lip piercings," said Bryan Rudolph, MD, MPH, co-senior author of this study and gastroenterologist at CHAM.

The ban, which CPSC enacted in 2012, had been working. The average number of cases per year was down 33 percent from 2012 to 2017 after the high-powered magnets were taken off the market.

Dr. Middelberg and Rudolph both believe federal legislation is necessary to protect children. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Magnet Injury Prevention Act in 2019 to reinstate the ban, but it has not made it to the floor for a vote.

"I urge all concerned Americans to contact Congress and ask them to support this critical legislation, as well as make their voices heard at the CPSC," Dr. Rudoph urged in a 2020 op-ed for USA TODAY.

In the meantime, Dr. Middelberg and Dr. Rudolph both agree that parents and other adults who frequently have children in their homes should refrain from buying high-power magnets.

"If you have high-powered magnets in your home, throw them away," Dr. Rudolph said. "The risk of serious injury is too great."

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