In 2014, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the popular desk toy, which consisted of small metal balls that could be formed into various geometric patterns because they contained rare earth magnets.
But they presented a hazard for young children who might swallow them. One ball would be bad enough. Two or more could fuse, clamping tissue between them.
Now, after a November court decision, Buckyballs are once again on the market.
The holidays present many hazards for young children, and pediatricians are putting Buckyballs back on their list of concerns.
Toy safety is a perennial issue. According to the CPSC, there were more than 250,000 toy-related injuries in the nation in 2014, the last year for which statistics are available. The good news is that in 96 percent of toy-related injuries that wound up in emergency rooms, the children were treated and sent home without having to be admitted to the hospital.
Gina Duchossois, an injury-prevention expert with the Kohl's Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, recently spoke to us about keeping your kids safe during the holidays.
Is it just a myth that the holidays are a dangerous time for children?
The holiday time is a really busy time of year for everyone, adults and children. We are introducing our children to many new scenarios. For example, we are traveling to other people's homes. Your home may be baby-proofed and ready for your small children. Then you go to visit Grandmom and her house is not baby-proofed. Try to take a step back. Remember to provide that extra supervision.
On the way, make sure you're buckling up every single time or using the child safety seat, and using it correctly. Pennsylvania has a new car-seat law, which became effective in August. It requires children to ride in a rear-facing seat up until their second birthday, unless they've reached the maximum weight or height limit for their car seat. New Jersey's car-seat law, which went into effect in September of 2015, is similar. Be aware that each state has its own car-seat law. So if you're traveling, make sure you know the laws. Or if family is traveling to this area from another state, they may not be aware of the new laws.
Tell us more about Buckyballs.
They are high-powered magnets. The hazard is that when they're ingested, if more than one is swallowed, they can attract to each other — through the stomach, say, or intestinal walls — and can result in very serious injuries. They can cause holes in the stomach and intestines, or intestinal blockage. They should not be played with by small children. Definitely don't have them in your home when there are small children who can ingest them.
It's the same with the lithium button batteries that you can find in lots of things, not just toys. Some car-key fobs and mini remote controls have these batteries in them. Some of the musical cards. These button batteries are a little smaller than a nickel. Unfortunately, they're just the right size to get stuck in the esophagus. That's what makes them so dangerous. What can happen is that a child may swallow it, it may not go all the way down to the stomach but lodge in the esophagus. The saliva triggers an electric current that causes a chemical reaction. In as little as a few hours, it could burn a hole in the esophagus. If you think your child may have swallowed a battery, you should seek medical attention immediately.
What's your best overall toy safety advice?
My best word of advice is to make sure you're getting toys that are age-appropriate. That's not just because developmentally, they are unable to play with those toys. Many toys are [labeled with] recommended age groups because they may contain small parts. One way young children learn is by mouthing. Those items can go directly into a child's mouth. That increases the risk of choking or swallowing something harmful.
Give the gift of safety. If you're buying a child a new bike or scooter, make sure that you take it one step further. Don't forget the most important part, which would be the bike helmet. Think about the safety of the gift, and if there is a safety item that could go with it, I would highly encourage giving that, too.
What are some of your other top holiday concerns?
If you're burning a candle, make sure it's at least a foot away from anything that is flammable. And make sure that it's out of a child's reach. Better yet, they make candles that are run by batteries, or you can plug them in. Even the matches that you use to light a candle, keep them out of reach.
Then, of course, don't forget the Christmas trees. Many ornaments may be glass and may break. For anything that could break or that is hanging with a hook, which can be very sharp, don't use them at all, or move them high up on the trees so young children can't reach them.
Many families do lots of cooking. It's a great idea to keep very young children out of the kitchen altogether. If you have older children, you can teach them responsibility by giving them small cooking jobs.