The hazards of small, strong magnets
The fatal attraction of strong magnets
Magnets attract themselves as well as people of all ages, especially children. Regrettably, enclosed in its attractiveness is also a lethal risk for products that contain small, strong magnets.
Misinterpreted symptoms after swallowing magnets
Medical signs associated with intestinal perforation or blockage can easily be misinterpreted since many children exhibit only flu-like symptoms. Such misinterpretations cause dangerous delays in the medical treatment. Several accidents, including fatalities, have been reported involving ingestion of magnets resulting in perforation or blockage of the intestines. Most accidents have occurred with children between the ages of 10 months and 8 years. In several cases surgery was required to remove the magnets from children's intestines.
Toys with strong magnets are recalled on a regular basis. Small magnets that could be ingested by young children do not comply with the requirements of the Toys Safety Directive 2009/48/EC.
EN 71-1 is the European standard for safety of toys with regard to mechanical and physical properties of toys.
EN 71-1 defines two possible solutions to constrain the risks of magnets for young children:
- Make sure the magnets do not fit in the 'small parts cylinder'. In other words, make sure the magnets are so large that they can not be swallowed by young children.
- Make sure the magnets are not strong enough to attract each other across intestines. "Not strong enough" is defined as a "magnetic flux index less than 50 kG2mm2 (0,5 T2mm2)".
There are some exemptions in EN 71-1, for instance experimental sets, but even then a warning is required for small, strong magnets: "Not suitable for children under 8 years. This product contains small magnets. Swallowed magnets can stick together across intestines causing serious injuries. Seek immediate medical attention if magnets are swallowed."
It becomes more complicated when the manufacturer declares that the products are not intended for young children, despite the "magical" attraction of magnets. Perhaps the most well-known recalls of such products with small, strong magnets were initiated by CPSC, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. It resulted in court cases that lasted for many years. CPSC provides information via its Magnets Information Center: https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Magnets/.
Despite the severe and lethal risks these type of products are still offered to the market and young children are still hospitalised as a result of this ignorance.