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Magnetic Toys Remain for Sale on Shelves as a Danger for Children

It was six years ago that the Chicago Tribune did an investigation of hazards from magnetic toys for children that helped touch off the government stiffening standards on the small pieces that can be swallowed by the unaware. At the time, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) held a public hearing in Chicago on consumer safety.  One of the clients of Clifford Law Offices, a mother from the far northern suburbs, Sharon Henry, explained at the hearing how she had innocently bought the toy, Magnetix, for her young son.  She always carefully monitored him playing with it, but as boys will be boys, he swallowed a couple of the pill-sized pieces and they began to attach together in his digestive track, perforating his bowel. Durbin, head of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance Services and General Government that oversees the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Rush, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection that has jurisdiction over how the CPSC operates, listened intently as the mother told the story of her anguish before television cameras on how she almost lost her son.  And she was not alone. The Tribune earlier had reported that at least  more than a dozen other children had done the same.  It is difficult for the magnetic toys to pass through a digestive track and, instead, when multiple magnets are swallowed, they can attract in the body, causing the intestine to twist and pinch, causing holes, blockages, infections, and even, at times, death, particularly if not discovered. Sharon Henry testified in 2007 explaining how doctors had caught the problem just in the nick of time to save her son's life.  She was told had she waited 24 hours, her son would have died, so she bravely stepped forward because she didn't want this to happen to another unsuspecting parent. Now, six years later, the Chicago Tribune again covered the issue in a front-page story ("Still a dangerous attraction," April 14, 2013), reporting how even adult toys, like Buckyballs that people may keep on their desks, have become a dangerous attraction for children.  The Tribune wrote, "Although no one keeps exact records on the problem, one medical group estimated from national surveillance data on injuries that ingesting magnets led to more than 16,000 emergency room visits by children under age 18 from 2002 to 2011." The story went on to report that last week (April 12, 2013) the CPS announced that six major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond and Brookstone, are voluntarily recalling Buckyballs and Buckycubes (the square version of the product) that were bought at their stores and offering various incentives for anyone who brings them in.  The CPSC estimates some three million sets have been sold in the U.S. since 2010. Click here to read more on the voluntary recall. Although many of the toys are no longer manufactured, they still are in people's homes.  And other high-powered magnets, like adult toys and jewelry, are around many people's homes.     The website of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago talks about magnet safety and explains the symptoms to look for: "watch for suspect systems like nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, and/or pain, especially if you think magnets may be involved." Click here to read more on magnet safety. Robert A. Clifford, senior partner at Clifford Law Offices, wrote about toy safety nearly 20 years ago in a column for the Chicago Lawyers. Click here to read that column. Parents and government officials have to remain vigilant for our young children.  

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