Playing with danger: Target 11 investigates mini-magnets

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PITTSBURGH —

If swallowed, mini-magnets can have life-threatening consequences for children. Federal regulators want them off the market. Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor found out why.

Three years ago, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the sale of powerful magnets in children's toys, but the problem didn't go away.

Manufacturers turned to adults, marketing the magnets as a desk toy. So, federal regulators sued, and here's why.

"They found the magnets. He had swallowed 18 of them," said Laura Bjarnason, the mother of 19-month-old Presley, who got a hold of mini-magnets.

The toddler is back to being his playful self, after spending hours at a doctor's office having the tiny magnets, the size of BBs, pulled from his stomach.

"They were extremely close to having to do abdominal surgery to remove them, because they were that strong. They were having a hard time getting them out with a scope," said Bjarnason.

Presley had gotten hold of Rare Earth Magnets, often marketed under the names Buckyballs or Zen Magnets.

The magnets are so powerful they can reconnect in the stomach or intestine and cause serious internal injury.

Mini-magnets come with a warning label, but doctors at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh are concerned, because they're seeing more kids swallowing them.

"When these magnets spread out through the intestinal tract, they can then find each other magnetically, bringing together different parts of the intestine," said Dr. Kevin Mollen, a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital.

A month ago, a local boy was rushed to the ER at Children's Hospital after he swallowed 26 tiny magnets. An X-ray showed the blockage in his intestines.

"These were present in multiple different loops of intestine," said Dr. Mollen.

The magnets looked like a chain, but they were actually boring a hole in his intestines and had to be surgically removed.

Cases like this one are why federal regulators want mini-magnets recalled.

"We've been told from the doctor's, it's like a gunshot wound to the gut of a child, with no sign of entry or exit of that wound. That's how serious this is," said Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the CPSC.

The commission estimates 1,700 children have been hospitalized in the past two years.

"We don't want there to be a death before we act and do the right thing," said Wolfson.

It's not just young children in danger. Teens are copying videos on YouTube, showing how to use the magnets to look like fake lip or tongue piercing.

"When they do these mock piercings, some of these kids are ending up swallowing the magnets and they too are being rushed to the hospital," said Wolfson.

Presley is fine now, but his mother says there were some frightening moments.

"It was extremely emotional, and I'm just so thankful that he's here and he's okay," said Bjarnason.

All but two manufacturers have voluntarily recalled mini-magnets. The maker of Buckyballs announced, in early November, that the magnets will be discontinued, and no more will be made after they sell out.

Yet, you can still buy mini-magnets in stores and on the Internet and they're already in many homes.