Nanny-state Obama CPSC Files Lawsuit Against Maker of Perfectly Safe Magnetic Desk Toy

July 26th, 2012 10:46 AM

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission  (CPSC) is taking a company to court to make it stop producing their popular Buckyballs magnetic desk toy, even though the company markets the product to adults and includes warnings that the toy is unsafe around children.

That's right, it's a desk toy marketed to adults, the vast majority of whom will keep them at their desk at work -- a generally kid-free environment -- and yet the Obama administration is trying to shut production down. Reporting the story, the Washington Post's Dina El Boghdady began today's article with a dry recitation of the lawsuit and waited until halfway through her story to get to the company's strong reaction (emphasis mine):

The Consumer Product Safety Commission filed suit Wednesday to stop the company that distributes the popular Buckyballs magnets from selling the product, a legal tactic that the agency has used only once before in the past decade.

The agency alleges that the magnets pose a grave danger to children. The CPSC says it filed the administrative complaint only after New York-based Maxfield & Oberton refused to voluntarily recall the powerful BB-size magnets, which are sold in sets of 216.

While these magnets have been marketed as desk toys for adults, the agency’s complaint cited numerous incidents in which children younger than 14 swallowed the magnets, sometimes after using them to mimic tongue or lip piercings.

When two or more of the magnets are swallowed, they can attach to each other, ripping holes in the stomach and intestines or causing other serious injuries, blood poisoning and death. The agency said it knows of more than two dozen magnet ingestion cases since 2009. At least a dozen of them involved Buckyballs, and some required surgery, including a 4-year-old boy who ingested three Buckyballs that he thought were chocolate candy, the agency said.

Retailers that were alerted in advance of the federal agency’s lawsuit — including Amazon and Brookstone — agreed to stop selling the popular Buckyballs, Bucky­cubes and other similar products. Ebay also agreed to take steps to remove listings of these items, according to the CPSC.

More than 2 million Buckeyball sets and 200,000 Buckycubes have been sold in this country since 2009 and 2011, respectively.

Maxfield & Oberton, which has cooperated with the commission in recent years to warn about the misuse of the magnets, said it was stunned by the agency’s actions.

“Thank you for trying to drive a $50 million New York-based consumer product company out of business,” the company shot back in a statement on Wednesday. The magnet-distributor blasted the commission for filing a lawsuit, alleging the CPSC did not give the company a chance to make its case. Instead, the regulators asked the retailers to stop selling the magnets and gave them 48 hours to respond, the company said.

These “intimidation tactics” have ruined the retailer’s base without good reason, Craig Zucker, the company’s chief executive said. He added that it is unreasonable for the agency to react in such a way to two dozen cases of misuse when more than half a billion magnets are on the market.

“The bureaucrats see danger everywhere, and those responsible people — like our company who have vigorously promoted safety and appropriate use of our products — gets put out of business by an unfair and arbitrary process,” Zucker said in a statement.

It's extremely odd that El Boghdady opted to bury the juicy stuff deeper in the article, rather than painting this conflict as an exciting struggle between a regulator and a company that is not taking the regulator's heavy-handed actions lying down.

Indeed, Maxfield & Oberton is fighting back against the CPSC on their site,, working to mobilize its customers and critics of nanny-state government to redress this grievance through social media:

You might have heard there's a problem with our products...

A government agency (the Consumer Product Safety Commission) is saying they should be recalled because children occasionally get ahold of them. This is unfair. We market exclusively to adults. We are vigorously defending our right to market these products you love. Let us know how you feel about this: Comment on Facebook; send a tweet; tell your friends; complain loudly; or just buy a set to stick it to the CPSC. Read more here.

I've appended above a picture of the warning label that accompany Buckyballs packaging. Screen capture of the Buckyballs site follows: