Could not authenticate you.

CPSC vs. BuckyBalls

If you have talked to or followed me in the last 24 hours, you have no doubt heard about BuckyBalls – those small, BB-sized, rare earth magnets you see for sale in novelty shops.  April gave me some for Christmas and I am constantly fiddling with them.

Well the US Government, in its infinite wisdom, has banned them.  They have ordered all companies selling rare earth magnets to stop doing so.  I discovered this yesterday when I went to order a set from nanodots. They are no longer for sale in the US.

When I found them unavailable on Amazon, I immediately became suspicious because you can buy anything on Amazon.  A quick search of Google News for Buckyballs reveals the problem:

Feds file suit against Buckyballs, retailers ban product

The Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday sued the maker of the popular magnetic desk toy Buckyballs to stop the sale of the product because of the risks posed to children.

Some major retailers, including Amazon, Brookstone and Urban Outfitters, have agreed to stop selling these and similar products at CPSC’s request. Children who swallow the tiny magnetic balls can require surgery when they become stuck in their intestines.
Dozens of children have needed surgery to remove the tiny magnets in Buckyballs as well as those sold by competitors of its maker, Maxfield & Oberton. At least 12 of the ingestions involved Buckyballs.

There have been, by the governments numbers, 33 incidents of kids being harmed by magnets.  12 involved Bucky Balls.  Bucky Balls has sold 2.2 million sets in four years each set contains between 125 and 216 balls. making a grand total of 275 to 475 million magnets in the wild.  If those 12 incidents involved just a few magnets, you are looking at a potential failure rate of one in 6 million to 1 in 13 million.

Yet the government response, despite warning labels on the product that specifically say they are dangerous if swallowed, is to ban the sale of the product.

By way of comparison, just for example, almost as many kids are killed by furniture per year (25) than have been killed by magnets.  More people (35) are killed per year by hot water than have been killed in total, by magnets.

Yet the government has not yet banned furniture or hot water.  But it may just be a matter of time given our overly-litigious society and activist government.

This overreach threatens, most directly, a company called Zen Magnets, the makers of Buckyballs.  They have, as noted, sold 2.2 million sets of magnets in the past four years (since they started).  The sets cost between $20 and $40. So despite the dysfunctional economy that government seems unable/unwilling to take seriously, this company has flourished by selling a novelty desk toy aimed at adults.

Now the government wants to shutter them because a handful of parents can’t or wouldn’t read the warning labels and be decent parents.

When people ask you to give an example of over-zealous, anti-business regulation, this is a good place to start.


Written by Michael Turk