Proposed Buckyballs ban draws strong reactions

Defenders of Buckballs and other magnet toys say they are uniquely relaxing and creative. (Photo: Jar (), Flickr)
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Trish Anderton

They're back! Buckyballs made headlines this summer when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) filed a lawsuit to block the popular desk toys from the market. Now the CPSC is proposing a permanent regulation to ban Buckyballs and other sets of small, round magnets.

The CPSC is accepting comments on the proposal through November 19th at regulations.gov … and a heated battle is underway, with 169 commenters opposing a ban and 126 supporting it.

Opponents of a Buckyball ban say the magnet sets are much more than momentary stress relievers. They defend them as an artistic and educational hobby.

“I feel especially passionate about this activity because it is such a great pastime for my son,” argues Sharon Bennett. “He is very intelligent and these balls are a great creative outlet for him. He will take them with him on planes, in the car, or to the mall. He creates things that constantly get comments from strangers. Instead of using the internet for mindless videos or games, he uses it to look up new creations for his balls.”

“I've created many objects with these magnets that have educational value in mathematics,” Edo Timmermans writes. “It is a great tool to teach people about geometry. I placed many tutorials on my Youtube channel EdoTimmermans to enable people to re-create the objects I made and improve their 3D-insight.”

Others maintain a ban would put companies out of business and unfairly punish fans who use the toys properly.

“This is just more nanny-state nonsense,” argues Jeremy Tollberg. “If the CPSC wants to really ban something harmful to the American public, it should prohibit itself and the bureaucratic red tape that it inevitably manages to strangle companies to death with.”

But supporters of a ban argue the little magnets present unique dangers to children. When the magnets are swallowed, doctors report, they can tear through the stomach or bowels in an effort to reattach to each other.

“I have personally seen the devastation caused by accidental ingestion of these powerful magnets. Children have had multiple intestinal perforations requiring multiple surgeries just in the greater Denver area,” writes pediatric gastroenterologist Michael Narkewicz.

“These rare earth magnet toys are inherently unsafe; there is no amount of warning or parental vigilance sufficient to prevent their misuse,” writes another pediatric gastroenterologist, Bryan Rudolph.

And some members of the public, like Sonal Patel, mock that idea that the magnets have great business and entertainment value: “The 'economic hardship' argument is far outweighed by the danger these magnet sets pose, especially coupled with their inherent value-less nature. 'Oh great, I can sit at my office desk and bend these magnets around when I should be working!' say the purchasers of these magnet sets for about two minutes until they realize they just wasted their money on a dopey and likely over-priced toy.”

If it's adopted, the regulation may come too late to make much of a difference. Most manufacturers have already stopped making the toys. Buckyballs threw in the towel in late October; Zen Magnets says it is the “last magnet sphere company standing” in the U.S. and vows to “keep fighting as long as we can.”

The CPSC regulates items like Buckyballs under Consumer Product Safety Act, which empowers it to “protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products.”

Do you think the government should take action against magnet ball sets? Or do you think a ban is overreaching and unnecessary? Share your comments here — and at regulations.gov!