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Consumer Product Safety Commission Banning … Toy Magnets?

"You can buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition online but pretty soon you won't be able to buy Buckyballs."

by
Patrick Richardson

Bio

July 31, 2012 - 12:00 am

The alarming headline: “CPSC sues Maxfield & Oberton over hazardous Buckyballs and Buckycubes. Children and teens injured, needed surgery.”

Buckyballs and Buckycubes are collections of small, powerful, round or cubic rare earth magnets which can be used to form all sorts of shapes or squeezed to relieve stress. Indeed, some children and even a few teens have been injured when they have swallowed multiple balls. However, the desk toys are marketed exclusively to adults and come with labels warning against ingestion and insisting they be kept out of children’s reach.

More than two million sets of these toys have been sold worldwide since they went on the market in 2009; there have been less than two dozen incidents.

After more than two years of working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission — by issuing a voluntary recall, changing the warning labels, and producing a safety video — Maxfield & Oberton has been told the CPSC is banning the product because it is “inherently dangerous” and “serves no useful purpose.”

Why not serving a “useful purpose” is a legitimate criterion, they don’t say. Most desk toys — say, a New York Yankees Mr. Potato Head — serve little useful purpose. As for being “inherently dangerous,” at least 140 children are killed each year riding bicycles, and more than 275,000 end up in the emergency room.

Maxfield & Oberton is a young company that, according to spokesman Andrew Frank, has only eight full-time employees but is expected to make $25 million in sales this year. That $25 million supports the full-timers plus a sales force of about 200, and the products are profitable for thousands of mom-and-pop stores across the country. Frank says it is difficult to calculate the number of jobs that would be lost if the ban stands, since in many of those small stores Buckyballs are the hottest item.

According to a press release issued by the company Friday, Maxfield & Oberton is fighting back:

“We are deeply disappointed that the CPSC has decided to go after our firm — and magnets in general,” said Founder and CEO Craig Zucker. “Magnets have been around for centuries and are used for all sorts of purposes. We participated with the Commission in an educational video less than nine months ago, so we are shocked they are taking this action. We find it unfair, unjust and un-American.”

Frank said the whole thing was patently ridiculous:

You can buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition online but pretty soon you won’t be able to buy Buckyballs.

He said the company has worked closely with the CPSC, doing everything it has been asked. According to Frank, two years ago the company received new labeling requirements: prior to the change in policy, the labels said 13 and up, as 13 year olds were not considered children under CPSC’s regulations:

When they changed the regulations we did a voluntary recall and put out new warning labels.

CPSC later asked the company to create a safety video, which it did. Then came the request:

They asked us to take them off the shelf and we said “no way,” Frank said.

In the release, Zucker agreed:

The CPSC’s action is unfair and unjustified. We are proud of the company we have built, the product itself, our safety program and our safety messaging, including our website, www.magnetsafety.com, our warnings — five in total — on the packaging and instructions, and in stores that sell our products. Our products are marketed to those 14 and above and out of over half a billion high-powered magnets we’ve sold, CPSC has received reports of less than 24 cases of misuse of our products.

Maxfield is taking their case to consumers via social networking, launching a video and a viral marketing campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms:

“It is hard to understand why CPSC is trying to pry our balls from the hands of adult users, effectively putting us out of business,” Zucker said. “We have launched this video in the hope that consumers will speak up and tell the CPSC that these adult-marketed, adult-focused products, when used correctly are perfectly safe.”

The video is available for viewing at www.SaveOurBalls.net, as well as on the company’s website, www.getbuckyballs.com. In addition, the company is encouraging customers and fans to contact the Chairwoman of the CPSC, Inez Tenenbaum, directly with their concerns at itenenbaum@cpsc.gov or 301-504-7900.

PJ Media attempted to contact Tenenbaum without success Friday.

Patrick Richardson has been a journalist for almost 15 years and an inveterate geek all his life. He blogs regularly at www.otherwheregazette.com, which aims to be like another SF magazine, just not so serious.
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