why the ban on Buckyballs is a good one

I’m usually on the side of personal responsibility when it comes to consumer products. If you don’t want your kid to have a broken ankle, then don’t buy the backyard trampoline.

But when the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced last week that they were seeking an order to cease production of  Buckyballs, I must say I did a little cheer.

As some of you know, my seven-year-old son had his own Buckyball-related medical complication just last month after he stuck one in his ear. This was a way to harm himself so original that the Buckyballs website hadn’t even thought of it (aren’t I proud). Amidst their warnings that Buckyballs were to be kept away from all children, lest they ingest them through nose or mouth, the ear was left out of it.

But visiting their website was the first inkling I had that Buckyballs weren’t for children. And once I started my research, I was horrified to discover that there have been dozens of serious injuries to children caused by Buckyballs, many requiring surgery.  One toddler swallowed thirty-seven Buckyballs and is recovering from the operations required to repair the three holes they ripped in her intestines. That’s why the AAP  immediately announced their support of the ban on Buckyballs last week as soon it was announced. They’re not run-of-the-mill choking hazards; they can be  mess-your-kid-up-for-life dangerous.

Lest ye judge the parent who left 37 magnets around for her toddler to swallow:  those magnets were purchased at a toy store. So were the ones that my son lodged in his ear. Until last week, at least, Buckyballs were sold in every toy store I visited- usually right up near the cash register where they were impossible to miss. Every parent I have told about Seamus’s inner ear adventure says, “Oh, we have those!” Not one of those parents were aware that they were a “desktoy,” and that that word (made up, by the way) indicated that they were wildly inappropriate for their children.

And that’s why I’m so annoyed at Maxfield and Oberton, the NYC-based company that manufactures Buckyballs, for their self-centered and petulant response to the CPSC ruling:

It’s completely disingenous to say they are only marketed to adults and “occasionally” make their way into the hands of children. Out of 2.5 million sets they’re sold in the US since 2009, what percentage do you think were sold in toy stores? I’m guessing 75%. Are we to believe that Maxfield and Oberton didn’t know who those stores would sell them to? Now that Buckyballs have been sold in toy stores for years, I’m not sure the genie can be put back in the bottle. They’re sold as children’s playthings, they’re perceived as children’s playthings, and Maxfield and Oberton made tons of money on that perception while knowing that the list of children injured by their product was growing.

But in typical modern fashion, instead of owning the problem and making it right, the makers of Buckyballs are trying to make this about their trampled freedoms and hurt feelings. “How can this happen in America?” CEO Craig Zucker whined to CBS News.  Are you kidding me? Your product has seriously injured 22 children. It’s a free country: make something that isn’t dangerous. Make your addictive magnets too big to be swallowed. The “administrative complaint” the CPSC  has slapped on you is a rare step, one taken only after your company refused to cooperate with a voluntary recall plan.

To my fellow parents, I say: The CPSC isn’t trying to take away your freedom to distract yourself during your conference calls. If you’re jonesing for something magnetic, try the Ball of Whacks, which won’t put your loved ones in serious danger. Let’s show Maxfield and Oberton how to behave like grownups.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara Young August 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Bravo and very well written. How dare this corporation attacks the government saying the CPSC and Obama are trying to destroy small businesses. If they are such wonderful entrepreneurs, prove it by re-designing the product or finding a new one to “entertain” adults and that won’t harm children. It is a shame they feel no responsibility for what their product has done. I say let them continue to make and sell them, only if they agree to pay all medical costs associated with the injuries to date, and all the future injuries to come.


Javier H. August 2, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Millions of other magnetic balls have also been sold, but they weren’t sold as children’s toys. In the CPSC lawsuit, Buckyballs was originally sold citing the appeal of a hula hoop, slinky and silly putty. That’s obviously kids focused. The other companies (like Nanodots) focused on selling to the adult groups and consequently haven’t had safety issue, yet they don’t seem to be the ones making a stink. And probably didn’t make as much as Maxfield & Oberton either. I guess money rules, but it sucks that 11 companies are being punished for the actions of just one company.


Oafer August 9, 2012 at 1:25 am

I bought mine at brookstone. Not much of a toy store. Just saying, it’s all fine and good to say “Desktoy” is a made up word, but did you think the 5 warnings on the box were made up too? What more did you need the company to do to keep them out of your children’s hands (and ears)? If your kid wanted cigarettes, as many do, would you buy them or head the warnings?


amywlsn August 9, 2012 at 2:07 am

Actually- if you read my whole story- I DIDN’T buy them for my children. My son was given them at school by a friend whose parents had bought them, and not at a Brookstone, either- at the local toy store. No box in sight at school to warn the kids they were unsafe (not that they would have listened anyway). This other kid’s parents would never have let him bring cigarettes to school and hand them out- he’s a first grader. But they thought Buckyballs were just fine. And the company knows that full well, and made tons of money off that misconception. That’s what I have a problem with.


James Dolin August 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Your kid is an idiot and it sounds like you are too.


Karen K. August 10, 2012 at 6:04 pm

“what percentage do you think were sold in toy stores? I’m guessing 75%.” Perhaps you should do some research before making outrageous claims. Buckyballs are not intended for children and are not sold to toy stores. It is too bad that your kid got ahold of them (and stuck them in his ear…), but are you honestly going to blame that on BB? With all the warnings on the packaging, it is the adult’s fault for handing them over to their kid. Use common sense people. What do you want to ban next, Amy? Well, I guess we will find out the next product you are “pro-ban” after your kid sticks something in another orifice.


amywlsn August 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm

I’m going to leave up these comments for the sake of civil discourse. This one walks the line, but I’m leaving it. Anything purely ad hominem is going to be deleted.


Karen K. August 10, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Fair enough. I know that BB has worked with the CPSC for years to keep the product out of children’s hands. They don’t sell to toy stores, so I’m very curious how they get their inventory.


amywlsn August 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

but just to respond to your comment, Buckyballs are definitely sold to toy stores. They’ve been sold there for years.


Jay Hochmann August 13, 2012 at 11:50 pm

In my pediatric gastroenterology group, we have definitely seen complications from these magnets. My perspective is noted on my blog. Feel free to share the link if you like:


Geoff August 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm

more than half the things we have in out house is dangerous to kids. even a simple spoon in a kids mouth while he or she is running and fall on their face can end up stabbing the child through the inner throat. so what do we do? make all companies stop selling spoons and forks? i dont have even 1 product from bucky balls, but i dont thing they have done anything wrong. their product has a lot of warnings. and kids need supervision. kids shouldnt be allowed to buy bucky balls and its the adults responsibility to keep away such products in a safe place.
your kid got access to few blass through a friend right? buckyballs fault? NO.
its the fault of the parent of that kid who had access to the balls and lent few to your kid.
if you want to help create a positive change then do one thing. come up with better stratergies.
forexample instead of requesting to make the product bigger for kid safety which should not be the point cause its never made for kids anyway…. so how about increasing the price so that no kid can go buy one in whatever shop with his pocket money. how about increasing the price so only a adult can buy and then let that adult be a adult and take responsibility for his or her actions.


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