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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 22, 2013

CFA legislative director urges adoption of magnet set safety standard

By Joe Bichl

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) heard oral presentations on a proposed standard that would prohibit magnet sets that do not meet certain performance requirements based on their size and strength (CPSC Notice, 78 FR 62588, October 22, 2013). Magnet sets are an “aggregated mass of 216 BB-size powerful magnets,” according to CPSC, that are marketed as adult desk toys for general amusement.

Unreasonable injury risk. However, these magnets have become an injury risk to children. According to the agency, the small, high-powered magnet sets were associated with 1,700 emergency room-treated injuries between 2009 and 2011, with 70 percent of the injuries happening to children 4 to 12 years of age. If swallowed, they can link together inside a child’s intestines and clamp onto body tissues, causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis, and death, the agency indicated.

Among the presenters, Rachel Weintraub, Legislative Director and Senior Counsel of Consumer Federation of America, spoke of an “unreasonable risk of injury” associated with children ingesting high-powered magnets that are part of magnet sets, stating that the injuries are “vastly different from and more serious than those that occur from the ingestion of other small parts.” Many of those who ingest the magnets require surgical intervention, she said.

CPSC proposal. On September 4, 2012, the Commission issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would ban high-powered magnet toys that do not meet certain performance requirements (77 FR 53781). Under the proposed rule, if a magnet set contains a magnet that fits within the small parts cylinder that CPSC uses for testing toys—which means that the object is small enough to be ingested—magnets from that set would be required to have a flux index of 50 or less. The flux index of a magnet is an empirical value developed by ASTM to estimate the attraction force of a magnet. ASTM established a flux index of 50 as a cutoff for what it considered to be a “safe” magnet, based on measurements of toys on the market.

Weintraub indicated her support for the proposal, which she believes will effectively limit exposure to the hazards caused by magnet sets currently on the market. “Reducing the magnetic force of magnets that can be swallowed is the most robust and successful way to reduce the threat of injury and death to children caused by these magnet sets,” she said.

Individual magnets. While supportive of the proposal, Weintraub urged CPSC to include individual magnets sold in conjunction with a magnet set as part of the of the proposed rule, arguing that individual magnets bought separately would “pose the same hazards as those bought as part of magnet sets.” In addition, she suggested that CPSC study whether magnets of a flux density of less than 50 could also potentially cause harm. She also suggested that the agency study other products containing magnets, including refrigerator magnets, push pins, and jewelry to evaluate whether a flux density of 50 is the appropriate level. She further urged the agency to study whether magnets “with a flux density of 50, when aggregated, continue to have a flux density of 50 or whether the aggregation of these magnets increases the flux density and could pose more serious harm.”

Warning labels. Weintraub cautioned the agency against warning labels and child-proof containers as effective solutions. Agreeing with the Commission that warning labels are less effective at reducing the hazard than changing the product itself, she stated that because the hazard is hidden, the potential harm is not immediately obvious and warning labels are less effective when the harm is not clearly known. Also, warning labels have already been used to no effective end, she said.

Child-proof containers. Given the nature of the use of these magnet sets, Weintraub warned, it is likely that they would not remain in any type of container, child-proofed or not. “They would be left out of their containers on a table, dresser, or desk in the geometric shape that the consumer created with the magnets,” she said, resulting in the containers’ effectiveness being very limited.

Companies: Consumer Federation of America

MainStory: TopStory CPSCNewsStory ChildrensProductsNews

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