Federal regulators are warning parents that high-powered magnets marketed as desk toys and stress relievers for adults can pose a deadly hazard to kids.
Children have swallowed the tiny magnets, which are so powerful they can cut through a child's intestines like a gunshot.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday it has received 17 reports of incidents in which magnets were swallowed since 2009. Of those cases, 11 required that the magnets be surgically removed.
"We want parents to be aware of the danger associated with these innocent-looking magnets," Inez Tenenbaum, the safety agency's chairwoman, said in a statement.
The Tribune reported in 2007 on the dangers of small magnets in toys and games that can come loose and be swallowed, prompting new awareness and new standards.
A suburban Seattle toddler named Kenny Sweet died, and dozens of other children suffered life-threatening intestinal injuries, after swallowing aspirin-size magnets that came loose from Magnetix building sets.
The next year a revised toy standard was put in place that prohibits toys for children under age 14 from containing magnets and magnet components that are loose and small enough to be swallowed.
But similar magnets are still used in gadgets and products marketed to adults and sometimes left within reach of toddlers. In some cases, toddlers have grabbed and swallowed loose magnets left on a table, other furniture or a floor.
The safety agency said some older children and teenagers have swallowed magnets after placing two or more on opposite sides of their earlobes, tongue and nose to mimic body piercings.
Reports of incidents involving high-powered ball-bearing magnets — the kind used by adults — have grown in the last two years, according to the CPSC. After one reported incident in 2009, there were 21 over the next two years involving children.
Even though magnets in toys for young children are now banned, products are still in consumers' homes. Since 2008, the CPSC has received more than 200 reports of children swallowing magnets in general. At least 18 of those children needed emergency surgery to remove the magnets.
The safety agency is advising parents to keep magnets away from young children and to seek medical attention immediately if a magnet is swallowed.
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