Walmart has issued a recall for highly magnetic ball sets sold on its website after the products were found to pose an ingestion hazard that could result in serious injury or death.
Over 4,000 Units Sold Before Recall
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced on December 28, 2022 that Walmart has agreed to recall over 4,200 units of Relax 5mm Magnetic Ball sets. The sets were sold exclusively on Walmart.com from December 2021 through November 2022 for about $25 per unit.
The magnetic balls are tiny, about the size of a marble, and can be molded into shapes and stacked using magnetic forces. However, if swallowed, the balls can attract to each other internally and cause severe damage or death.
According to the CPSC, the recalled products do not comply with federal safety standards since the balls are so small and the packaging lacks proper warnings. There is also no age grading to indicate the toys are unsafe for children.
At Least Seven Fatalities Linked to Magnetic Balls
While no incidents have been reported so far with the Relax-branded magnetic balls sold by Walmart, the CPSC warned that these types of magnet sets have resulted in serious injuries and fatalities among children and teens.
Since 2009, at least seven children have died and thousands more required surgery after swallowing high-powered magnets like those found in the recalled Walmart products.
The magnets can pinch or trap intestines, causing holes, blockages, infection, and death if not surgically removed. Initial symptoms of ingestion may seem minor or flu-like, so diagnosis can be easily missed.
|Number of Reported Magnet Ingestion Injuries
*Note: Increase reflects better reporting methods started in 2016
Calls for Stronger Regulations of Hazardous Magnet Sets
While the CPSC has taken steps to regulate the size of magnets sold in children’s toys, magnet sets marketed to adults remain widely available.
Consumer advocates and pediatricians have been urging for stricter federal rules prohibiting the sale of loose magnet balls and requiring improved warnings for adult magnet sets. Some U.S. states have imposed restrictions, but online sales remain difficult to control.
“Incident data shows misuse by teens and tweens is increasing along with larger magnet sets,” said Nancy Cowles of Kids in Danger. “It is clear that warnings are not enough to keep these products out of the hands of children.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics also maintains that warnings cannot adequately protect curious children. They advise parents not to purchase any magnetic balls or toys containing loose magnets.
Walmart Stops Sale of Magnetic Ball Sets
As part of the recall, Walmart has stopped sale of the Relax 5mm magnetic balls on Walmart.com. The retailer has also directly notified purchasers instructing them to take the recalled magnets away from children and return for a full refund.
No physical Walmart stores sold this magnetic ball set. Only online orders through Walmart.com are impacted.
Consumers are advised to immediately secure the magnet balls away from children and contact Walmart for refund and return instructions. The balls should not be thrown out, as they can be attractive to pets or wildlife if discarded.
Until returned and refunded, the magnetic balls should be kept in a secure location out of reach of children and anyone who may not be aware of the hazard, including teens.
Next Steps: Stricter Regulations Considered
The latest recall has prompted renewed attention around the dangers of loose magnet balls and calls for regulatory action to protect public safety.
In November 2022, the CPSC released a staff report highlighting the rising hazards of magnet sets and provided recommendations for new federal standards. Potential measures include:
- Mandatory warnings for magnet sets stronger than 50 gauss
- Prohibiting loose magnet balls sized between 5mm and 12mm
- Requiring child safety packaging on high-powered magnet sets
Consumer advocates plan to continue pressuring CPSC and legislators to move forward with these proposed regulations. However, it may take considerable time to officially turn recommendations into binding rules.
In the meantime, major online retailers seem to be taking initiative by stopping sales of dangerous magnet balls — as evidenced by Walmart’s swift recall. Parents are also encouraged to be vigilant and heed safety guidance around keeping loose magnet balls away from kids.
This breaking news story will be updated as more details emerge around federal response and impacts from the Walmart recall. Consumers with questions can contact Walmart or the Consumer Product Safety Commission for assistance.
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