Good riddance to Buckyballs

On May 9, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) settled its lawsuit against Craig Zucker and his company that manufactured Buckyballs and Buckycubes.  These high-powered rare earth magnets sold in sets of 216 tiny balls, each of which is about eight times more powerful than the strength allowed in children’s products. The settlement recalls and prohibits the sale of Buckyballs and Buckycubes anywhere in this country, including online. Finally consumers, particularly children, have won.

When I joined the CPSC in July 2013, this lawsuit was already ongoing as were the ubiquitous, vitriolic public attacks on the commission, commissioners, and staff members because of it. Both the press’ and defendant’s distortions regarding the CPSC’s goal in this lawsuit, and its motivation in bringing suit, have caused a loss of focus on the salient facts.   

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Shortly after Buckyballs and Buckycubes appeared in the marketplace, infants, small children, and teens started appearing in emergency rooms throughout the country after having ingested two or more of the magnets. Small, high-powered rare earth magnets attracted through the walls of the intestines and caused horrific, long-term and life-threatening injuries."

An estimated 1,716 injuries from these magnets occurred between 2009 and 2011 based on national emergency room data. Pediatric gastroenterologists surveyed their organization’s members and, even with an approximate 25 percent response rate, they identified 480 ingestions in ten years. In the 12 months prior to their October 2012 report, there were 204 ingestions. The actual numbers are certainly much greater.

The mission of CPSC is to address just such dangerous products.

Therefore, CPSC staff requested that Zucker’s company recall Buckyballs and Buckycubes; he refused. CPSC staff then filed a lawsuit seeking the recall. To do otherwise when a product is causing grievous injuries in hundreds, if not thousands, of children would have been a gross dereliction of duty. 

This lawsuit is simply the result of the CPSC carrying out its public health mission to protect the public from an unreasonably dangerous product, not about punishing anyone. CPSC’s Complaint sought only a recall and stop sale of Buckyballs and Buckycubes and publicity of the same. The Administrative Law Judge allowed Zucker, individually, to be added to the lawsuit after Zucker’s company was dissolved, which is the entity that should have been responsible for the recall of this product.

The settlement in this matter mirrors the lawsuit and reaffirms that CPSC was only doing its duty to remove Buckyballs and Buckycubes from the market.  The settlement does precisely that.

I hope, as a result of this recall and stop sale, there will be a significant decrease in injuries related to high-powered rare earth magnets. That’s our job.

Robinson is a commissioner at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.

This piece was updated at 2:25 p.m. to correct an inaccuracy.