Doctors: Warning labels on magnetic toys aren't enough

Warning labels are not working to prevent children from ingesting Buckyballs and other powerful magnetic toys, a group of digestive health doctors said Tuesday.

The magnets can pierce holes in the intestines, and some children have needed multiple surgeries and lengthy hospitalizations. Since 2010, there have been warning labels on Buckyballs - on five places in each box, and in accompanying instructions - aimed at keeping the magnets away from children.

But the warning labels on the high-powered magnetic toys are ineffective, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition said Tuesday. 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 sometimes use the toys to mimic jewelry like tongue or cheek piercings.

In July, the Consumer Product Safety Commission sued the maker of Buckyballs to get the company to stop selling its products, but the company refused, according Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the federal agency.

A spokesman for Maxfield and Oberton, the maker of Buckyballs, on Tuesday defended the company's efforts to keep powerful magnets away from children, including the use of warning labels.

"As a company we've really been trying to do the right thing and sell the product in the right marketplace and environment," said Andrew Frank. "To say that this many injuries or incidents means that it should be taken off the market, it's a difficult assessment about warning labels."

In a statement, Maxfield and Oberton said that in addition to using warning labels, the company does not advertise or 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.