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Consumers read news stories all the time about various product recalls, often issued voluntarily by manufacturers in concert with government agencies.
But when a company fights a recall, the situation ends with the rare step of the federal government issuing a mandatory recall. That happened last week when the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ordered Zen Magnets and Neoballs off of shelves nationwide.
Zen Magnets LLC makes Zen Magnets and Neoballs, products marketed as small "rare-earth" magnetic balls. The balls are about the size of BBs and come in large sets.
Their size presents an obvious swallowing hazard to children. Swallowing one may not be particularly dangerous. If a child swallows multiple balls, however, they can join together and cause intestinal damage. The CPSC banned the sale of these products as children's toys in 2009, but they've lived on through marketing toward adults as desk toys.
According to the CPSC, at least two deaths and approximately 4,500 incidents of swallowing magnets occurred from 2009 to 2018.
As Consumer Reports and other media outlets note, in the vast majority of recalls, manufacturers work with the CPSC or other government agencies on announcing and coordinating recalls.
In this case, however, Zen Magnets LLC spent the last decade putting up a fight against the federal government. The CPSC first issued a warning in 2011, and after that, attempted regulations and court challenges followed. A federal court last year allowed the CPSC to move forward with last week's action.
In a combative statement, Zen Magnets CEO Shihan Qu decried the government's "war on magnets" and trampling on adults' rights to buy products they enjoy. He noted the company has also been offering customers a chance to return products for any reason since 2016. The company's site notes that Zen Magnets and Neoballs are no longer for sale as of December 2020 while also displaying how fun the products are.
It's also worth noting that other magnets are still for sale from other companies, although the Washington Post reports that the CPSC is drafting regulations to ban these products entirely.
If you have children and have Zen Magnets or Neoballs, medical experts and CPSC warn that the toys are hazardous.
"The majority of kids who swallow high-powered magnets will require endoscopic removal or surgery," says pediatric gastroenterologist Bryan Rudolph, M.D., a spokesman for the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition.
According to the CPSC's website, if you have Zen Magnets or Neoballs, you should "immediately stop using" them and contact Zen Magnets for a refund.