Consumer Product Safety Commission Banning ... Toy Magnets?

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.