Buckyballs, Buckycubes, Popular Magnetic Desktoys, Discontinued

Toy maker has been under continued pressure from the federal government.

October 31, 2012, 3:16 PM

Oct. 31, 2012— -- Maxfield & Oberton, the maker of Buckyballs and Buckycubes, popular office toys made up of small magnetic beads that can be molded into different shapes, is discontinuing those products after continued pressure from the federal government.

Marketed to adults as a stress reliever and a cure for cubicle boredom, more than 2 million Buckyballs have been sold in the United States.

"Due to baseless and relentless legal badgering by a certain four letter government agency, it's time to bid a fond farewell to the world's most popular adult desk toys, Buckyballs and Buckycubes. That's right: We're sad to say that Balls & Cubes have a one-way ticket to the Land-of-Awesome-Stuff-You-Should-Have-Bought-When-You-Had-the-Chance," said a statement on the company's website today.

That agency is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which said an estimated 1,700 people have been hospitalized in the past three years after ingesting parts from these kinds of magnet toys. As a result, the CPSC filed a lawsuit in July against Maxfield & Oberton, calling Buckyballs "hazardous" because the strong magnets "contain a defect in the design, packaging, warnings and instructions, which pose a substantial risk of injury to the public."

In the lawsuit, the CPSC demanded that Buckyballs and several high-power magnetic toys from other companies be recalled immediately.

"In response to a request from CPSC staff, a number of retailers have voluntarily agreed to stop selling Buckyballs, Buckycubes and similar products manufactured by other companies. CPSC staff called upon these retailers to cease distribution of high-powered, manipulative magnetic products after dozens of young children and teenagers swallowed multiple magnets, which connected inside their gastrointestinal tracts and caused internal injuries requiring surgery. The online marketplace eBay has also agreed to implement steps to remove listings by sellers for these items," according to a statment from the CPSC.

Andrew Frank, a spokesman for Maxfield & Oberton, said over the past couple of weeks the decision was made to "sell out what we've got" and "focus on other products," but that the company would "continue to fight the action that is against us."

"Maxfield and Oberton will continue to fight the CPSC's effort to put the company out of business and denies its products violate any CPSC standard or other legal requirement," Frank said.

When asked if abandoning Buckyballs and Buckycubes meant that Maxfield & Oberton was admitting the product was a danger, Frank said, "We maintain our strong opposition to the CPSC's claim that our vigorous safety program and the five warnings on our product's packaging are insufficient. We market our products only toward adults. Unfortunately, the CPSC will not consider our proposal to work together to launch an educational campaign to complement our own efforts."

Buckyballs CEO Craig Zucker told "Nightline" in September that the company had been challenging the proposed ban because, Zucker said, Buckyballs were not defective and were marketed as an office toy to adults, clearly not intended for or marketed to children.

"We're not in Happy Meals. We're not on Saturday morning cartoons. We're in adult stores -- places you would go to find something for your dad on Father's Day," Zucker said at the time.

In the wake of the proposed ban, Zucker launched an online campaign called "Save Our Balls," which sparked a national debate on the role of big government. He also added that he had taken steps to educate consumers about magnet safety and pointed out that Buckyballs' packaging carries clear warnings to parents.

Warning labels are "on the top, the side, the carrying case. It's on the instructions," he said. "I would say it's impossible to miss the warnings. They're all over the place."

But the CPSC told "Nightline" that its warning labels did not go far enough because they didn't "travel with the product," meaning once the toy was removed from the packaging, there was nothing to expose its potential dangers or stop children from "facing serious injuries."

At 20 months old, Presley Bjarnson was hospitalized after he swallowed 18 Buckyball beads last month. His mother, Laura Bjarnson, who told "Nightline" she never saw the warning labels on the toy's packaging, had accidentally left the toy out where Presley could reach it.

When she found Presley with the toy, Bjarnson said she didn't know at the time if her son had swallowed the magnets. But Bjarnson, who is a registered nurse, took Presley to the pediatrician the following day as a precaution. An X-ray showed a ring of 18 Buckyballs lodged in his stomach.

"When I first saw that X-ray and saw that it was not one magnet, that it was 18, I panicked," Bjarnson said. "I knew that if they had passed from his stomach into his intestine that he could die. The ultimate, the highest risk was that he could die."

As these high-power magnetic beads travel through the body, doctors said they could stick together, pinching tissue and ultimately puncturing holes in the thin intestinal lining.

While Maxfield & Oberton is purging its inventory, the company said "there are still a few thousand sets of Buckyballs, Buckycubes and Chromatics in stock and available for purchase online."

Frank added that the company was donating 20 percent of its profits from any Buckyballs and Buckycubes purchased until Friday to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

ABC News' Nick Capote contributed to this report.

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