Recalls in Review: A monthly spotlight on the trending regulatory enforcement issues at the CPSC.
As businesses brace for anticipated supply chain delays in the coming months, many stores are already offering impressive deals to early holiday shoppers. Recognizing that numerous popular products contain magnets, we turn our attention to CPSC regulatory actions involving magnets in this month’s installment of “Recalls in Review.”
At least 58 recalls involving magnets have been conducted since 1998, with 56 of those recalls occurring after 2005. The CPSC began monitoring magnets, magnet sets, and products containing magnets very closely in 2007, recalling eleven products amid reports that children were swallowing magnets and experiencing severe internal injuries. Similar recalls continued into 2008 and were accompanied by an increase in recalls of magnets for violations of the federal lead paint standard.
Unlike many other consumer products, no mandatory federal safety standard exists specifically to regulate magnets or magnet sets. The CPSC attempted to promulgate a mandatory federal safety standard to address high-powered magnets and published the regulation on October 3, 2014. Under the rule, magnets intended for use as part of a magnet set and that fit the CPSC’s definition of a “small part” could not have a flux index above the specified level. However, the rule was ultimately vacated by a federal court and removed from the Code of Federal Regulations. Still, the CPSC continues to monitor and recall high-powered magnets. The CPSC first sued Zen Magnets LLC in 2012 over their high-powered “Zen Magnets Rare Earth Magnet Balls” to force a recall of the products after discussions with the company failed to result in a voluntary recall plan. The Zen Magnets recall was finally announced in August 2021.
A review of the recall history shows that numerous categories of products involving magnets have been recalled over the years. Approximately one-third of the recalls have been for children’s toys, including magnetic puzzles and tic-tac-toe games, magnetic dart boards, and dolls and action figures that come with magnetic accessories. Toys typically become a concern when small magnets within the toy fall out and are able to be swallowed by children playing with the toys. Approximately 28% of the recalls have been for actual magnets, including individual magnets and magnet sets, followed by 14% for magnetic building kits. The remaining magnet-related recalls have targeted various other products, such as children’s school supplies, children’s clothing, a kid’s bike helmet, science kits, dry erase boards, a travel mug with a magnetic lid, a flashlight in a personal safety kit, and a pool gate.
According to information provided by the CPSC recall announcements, over two-thirds of the recalls address the harms posed when children and teenagers ingest small magnets. When multiple magnets are swallowed, the magnets can link together inside a person’s intestines and clamp onto body issues, resulting in intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis, and even death. Swallowing individual or multiple magnets can also pose choking hazards for young children. As discussed above, magnets from science kits and those sold for use in science classes, were also frequently recalled in 2007 and 2008 due to excessive levels of lead in the paint coating the magnets.
A few recalls have also been conducted because the magnet in the product posed other risks of injury. For example, a recall of a travel mug with a magnetic lid was conducted last year because the magnetic slider on the lid could eject, posing burn hazards to consumers. Flashlights from personal safety kits were recalled in 2006. According to the recall announcement, the magnet in the flashlight could be powerful enough to disrupt a heart patient’s implantable cardiac defibrillator.
Nearly half of the recalls were conducted despite there being no reported incidents involving the recalled product. None of the products recalled due to a violation of the federal safety standard for lead in paint were had reported incidents or injuries. The CPSC first recalled a product to address the risks associated with swallowing magnets despite there being no reported incidents involving the product in December 2007, after at least five other products were recalled amid reports of serious injuries and hospitalizations.
The most common remedy offered by recalling firms is a replacement product or product part (57% of the recalls). Less often, the remedy may be limited to refund (38% of recalls), repair, or merely instructions to discard the product. Over half of the recall announcements request that consumers return the product to the recalling firm—particularly for recalls that addressed risks associated with children swallowing the magnets. The announcements for recalls addressing violations of the federal safety standard for lead, product failure, and injuries unrelated to ingestion of a magnet (i.e. risk of laceration or choking on non-magnet parts) do not ask consumers to return the recalled product). Consumers should carefully check products purchased during the upcoming holiday shopping season to ensure that children cannot get ahold of any magnets that may be inside the products, and monitor CPSC.gov or SaferProducts.gov for related recalls.
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About Recalls in Review: As with all things, but particularly in retail, it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s trending with consumers. Regulatory enforcement is no different—it can also be subject to pop culture trends and social media fervor. And this makes sense, as sales increase for a “trending” product, the likelihood of discovering a product defect or common consumer misuse also increases. Regulators focus on popular products when monitoring the marketplace for safety issues.
As product safety lawyers, we follow the products that are likely targets for regulatory attention. We share our observations with you through Recalls in Review.