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.