Buckyballs are very strong rare-earth magnets in the shape of a ball. They’re incredibly fun, and can be used for all kinds of neat tricks, including making an electric motor using only Buckyballs, a battery, and a wire. Yesterday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned them, because a dozen kids had eaten some over the past three years and required surgery. One of these was a 4-year old boy who ate three of them because he thought they were chocolate candy. (How did he mistake not one, but three of them, for chocolate? Was he inhaling them? Does he think chocolate is made of metal?) A 3-year old ate 37 of them.
The problem is the magnets are so strong that once inside the body, they are attracted to each other and can pinch intestines if two of them are in different parts of the digestive system. And 37 of them can form a giant metal rock in someone’s stomach. Surprisingly, none of the kids died, and the magnets are marketed for ages 14 and up, have ample federally-required warnings on them, and are obviously made of metal which is not edible. There are somewhere around 60 million kids under 14 in the US, making 0.0000002% of them the cause for this ban. This is why we can’t have nice things.
The American Academy of Pediatrics praised the ban, and presumably would like to ban other products they list on their website as choking hazards: latex balloons, coins, marbles, toys with small parts, pen or marker caps, small button-type batteries, and medicine syringes. They also have a separate list for foods like hot dogs, nuts, grapes and raisins. No word on ammonia, cherries or pebbles. However, the CPSC — which is headed by three commissioners that answer only to the president — can’t ban many of those things anyway, since they only have jurisdiction over a narrow subset of products, which includes toys and coffee makers, but not food (regulated by the Department of Agriculture and the FDA), guns (ATF), cars (NHTS), uranium (NRC), and a lot of other things. If other agencies get ban-happy though, GeekMom from Wired has a list of seven things the feds could ban next.
The sometimes eerily prescient Onion predicted this twelve years ago, in an article entitled “Fun Toy Banned Because Of Three Stupid Dead Kids,” which you need to read because it hits the nail on the head:
Each of the deaths was determined to be the result of gross misuse of the toy, an incredibly cool device that could shoot both plastic missiles and long jets of water, as well as maneuver over the ground on retractable wheels.
“I know the overwhelming majority of American kids who owned an Aqua Assault RoboFighter derived many hours of safe, responsible fun from it,” CPSC commissioner Mary Sheila Gall said. “But, statistically speaking, three deaths stemming from contact with a particular toy constitutes an ‘unreasonable risk.’ Look, I’m really sorry about this. Honestly. But our agency’s job is to protect the public from hazardous products, even if those who die are morons who deserved what they got.”