On April 21, 2008 the Commission of the European Communities decided to direct its European Member States to issue specific warnings on toys with magnetic parts. This followed the mass recall of these products issued by the United States Consumer Protection Agency, estimated to have involved over 17 million toys in America and Europe. Our firm recently settled one of these cases.
Defining the “magnetic toy” as a toy that contains or consists of one or more magnets or one or more magnetic components that are of ingestible shape and size, the European Commission directed its Member States to require the following warning: “Warning! This toy contains magnets or magnetic components. Magnets sticking together or becoming attached to a metallic object inside the human body can cause serious or fatal injury. Seek immediate medical help if magnets are swallowed or inhaled.”
While we applaud the efforts of the European Commission, attention should not be taken away from the design and manufacture of these magnet incorporating toys. The magnets utilized in these toys are much more powerful than the typical “refrigerator” magnets that we are familiar with, and are often milled to a very small size to accomodate the components of the toy. Design specifications must insure that the magnets remain properly encapsulated in the toy during its expected life. Collaring methods should account for significant potential abuse, as once the magnet is freed it may easily escape detection. This would expose other toddlers, even those who never played with the toy, to the dangers associated with their ingestion.
We are also concerned that warnings may not always filter down to the persons overseeing the use of the toy. Child care centers, for example, often have bins or drawers of random toys that are collected and stored together. Attendants seldom are familiar with the warnings that may have accompanied the original packaging of the toy. It would be highly unusual for these attendants to have awareness about the hidden dangers of magnetic toys. Parents with this awareness should bring it to the attention of their child care providers, to have these toys removed from this setting.