Small powerful magnets are a recent hazard in the toy market. If children ingest two magnets or a magnet and a metal object(s) at different times, the magnetic pieces in different areas of the intestines can be attracted to each other through the stomach or intestinal walls. This will crush the trapped internal tissues, cutting off blood flow and causing serious injury, infection, and possibly death. The objects can only be removed with surgery. One child has died and many more have needed surgery to remove magnetic objects from their bowels and to repair holes formed by them.
CPSC staff recommends that magnetic components in toys be too large to swallow. The magnetic components should not fit into the well-known small parts cylinder used for screening choking hazards for children younger than 3 years.** Also, any components that contain small magnets that could be swallowed if they fall out should be manufactured with a durable design that ensures that those magnets do not fall out. An impact test or lifetime cycling tests may be appropriate to test product durability. In order to understand the hazard and supervise magnetic toys around small children, consumers should be warned on the packaging of all magnetic toys with this ASTM suggested language: WARNING: This product contains (a) small magnet(s). Swallowed magnets can stick together across intestines causing serious infections and death. Seek immediate medical attention if magnet(s) are swallowed or inhaled. Staff recommends that all magnet toy products intended for children up to the age of 14 years meet these recommendations.
International standards organizations are aware of this issue and some have adopted requirements intended to prevent injuries. For more information, contact ASTM International (formerly American Society for Testing and Materials), CEN (European Committee for Standardization), and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) toy standards representatives.
* This information was prepared by CPSC staff, has not been reviewed or approved by, and may not reflect the views of the Commission.
** See Small Parts Regulations: Toys and Products Intended for Use by Children Under 3 Years old (pdf)