Buckyballs and their nearly identical competitor, Nanodots, are very popular magnetic “toys” that let you create a nearly infinite amount of 3D shapes by combining tiny magnetic spheres into different layouts. But those magnets are made from rare-earth neodymium and are incredibly strong given their diminutive size and that presents a serious danger to children.
There is a very real possibility that a child could accidentally ingest two or more of the magnets and, once in the digestive tract, they could cause serious damage to internal organs as they trap tissue between them, or become lodged permanently. Pets are also at risk.
Because of this, both Buckyballs and Nanodots have issued very clear and strongly worded warnings to adults that these construction kits not be given to children or kept anywhere children can access them.
This is good advice, but apparently it’s not good enough. USA Today reports that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has filed suit against the maker of Buckyballs and that retailers have responded by pulling the product from store shelves.
According to their article,
Dozens of children have ingested the tiny magnets in Buckyballs and similar products sold by competitors. At least 12 of the ingestions involved Buckyballs and many required surgeries.
Reuters is reporting that the CPSC has taken the unprecedented move of ordering the manufacturer to cease distribution of the product, something the commission hasn’t done since 2001.
A few years ago, I was sent a sample of Nanodots to try out and was amazed by the way the balls could be assembled. I decided, in spite of the warning, to let my then eight-year-old son to try them out under my close supervision. He adored them. It wasn’t long before he was creating some truly amazing 3D creations. But my wife and I made it clear that the product was dangerous and needed to be handled with great care.
Thankfully, nothing bad has ever happened in our home and my son has continued to show great responsibility in his handling of the product. But I have noticed that even with care, it’s easy for the little balls to escape one’s grip and end up rolling under a piece of furniture. That’s not where you want a super-strong, tiny magnet living for any length of time.
This ban hasn’t changed my decision, but it does serve as an excellent reminder to anyone who has this product or is considering buying it: please exercise extreme caution when handling them – the danger is real.