Editor's note: This story was updated Oct. 21, 2022 to include a statement from AAP President Moira A. Szilagyi, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP.
A new AAP-backed federal safety standard aiming to protect children and teens from serious injuries caused by high-powered magnets will go into effect Oct. 21.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently voted 5-1 in favor of the rule that says loose magnets in certain products must be too large to swallow or too weak to cause serious injuries if they can be swallowed.
“This rule would work to ensure that life-threatening magnets do not find their way into our homes and into the hands of children and teens who can swallow them unintentionally,” CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric, J.D., said in a statement.
High-powered magnet sets typically include several hundred tiny balls or cubes. If a child swallows two or more magnets, they can attract each other within the body, causing serious damage to internal organs or death.
About 26,600 magnet ingestions were treated in emergency departments from 2010-’21, according to CPSC estimates. The CPSC finalized a rule in 2014 that effectively removed these magnets from the market and led to a reduction in ingestions. However, a 2016 court decision allowed them to return.
The commission said it believes the new mandatory standard, which goes into effect Oct. 21, addresses the court’s concerns. It applies to magnet products made for entertainment, jewelry, mental stimulation and stress relief, while excluding those for education, research and industrial use. It also doesn’t apply to toys for children under 14 years, which are regulated by the CPSC’s toy standard.
For more than a decade, the AAP has been warning families about the dangers of high-powered magnets and urging federal authorities to take action. In March, the AAP and North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition sent a letter to the CPSC in strong support of the proposed safety standard, saying it is “the most effective and powerful tool to prevent pediatric magnet ingestions.”
“Young children are inherently curious, built to explore their environments, and due to developmentally appropriate exploratory behaviors, ingestion will remain a risk even with improvements in packaging and labeling,” they wrote.
Hoehn-Saric applauded the advocacy efforts, saying, “Pediatricians and pediatric gastroenterologists who see first-hand the health impacts of these magnets have led the way in pushing for mandatory standards.”
Both medical groups hailed the passage of the CPSC standard in an Oct. 21 joint statement.
“Pediatricians have witnessed first-hand the tragic consequences caused by accidental ingestions of high-powered magnets in their own patients and have long been sounding the alarm for strong regulatory action,” said AAP President Moira A. Szilagyi, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP. “The new safety standard will go a long way toward ensuring these dangerous products do not find their way into children’s hands, preventing serious injuries and saving lives.”
Study explores impact of warning labels on magnet ingestion
A new study provides more evidence that warning labels alone are insufficient. The Injuries, Morbidity, and Parental Attitudes Concerning Tiny high-powered magnets (IMPACT) research collaborative interviewed 173 parents of children and teens who had been exposed to high-powered magnets through ingestion or insertion and one adult who was exposed.
The median age of patients was 7.5 years. About 39% of the youths accidentally swallowed magnets they were playing with. About 16% were young children demonstrating age-appropriate mouthing behaviors, and 14% were youths who put magnets in their mouth to simulate a piercing, according to “Warning Labels and High-Powered Magnet Exposures,” (Middelberg LK, et al. Pediatrics. Oct. 3, 2022).
Just over half of parents said they didn’t know if there was a warning label. Among the 24% who said a warning was present, only 46% read it.
About 58% of parents said they knew the magnets were dangerous, while 44% said they believed they were a children’s toy.
“Warning labels do not prevent many high-powered magnet exposures in children,” authors wrote. “Injuries due to high-powered magnets are likely to continue without federal effort to remove these products from the market.”
The AAP recommends families do not keep high-powered magnet sets in their home. Those who do have them should keep them in a locked container where children can’t get to them, and older children and teens should be advised on the risks of putting them in their mouths or noses. Parents who suspect their child has swallowed a magnet should seek immediate medical attention.