Magnet regulation leaves bad taste in consumers’ mouths

Robby Soave | Reporter

Federal regulators have stepped up their campaign against extra strength-magnets, signalling late last week that they intend to ban all such magnets in the United States due to concerns that children could die from swallowing them. But one company that sells the magnets has come up with a different solution: Make them taste really, really bad.

Nano Magnetics — one of a dozen companies that sell rare earth magnetic balls — has invented a new safety feature for their Nanodots product called AversiveTech. The Nanodots will now be encapsulated in a difficult-to-open canister and coated in a substance with a strongly bitter, awful taste. These safety measures should deter children from swallowing them and teenagers from using them as fake tongue piercings, according to a spokesperson for Nano Magnetics.

“AversiveTech (bitter coatings) and our new packaging will stop mouthing issues and fake piercing attempts,” wrote Ashley Huffman, a spokesperson for Nano Magnetics, in an e-mail to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Scott Wolfson, a spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which intends to prohibit sales of the small magnetic balls in the United States, declined to comment on AversiveTech. He stressed that the proposed ban would be subject to a period of public comment, after which the commission would decide whether to enforce it.

“If and when the commission was to approve a final rule, it becomes the law of the land,” he said in an interview with The DC News Foundation. “We are a regulatory agency, and we develop safety standards that become federal law.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported that the CPSC had filed complaints against two companies that refused to stop selling rare earth magnets, Zen Magnets and Buckeyballs. Both companies denied the CPSC’s claim that their magnets were “dangerous and defective,” and insisted their extensive warning labels were effective at preventing the magnets from being eaten.

Several other companies, including Nano Magnetics, voluntarily halted magnet sales pending the CPSC’s investigation. But Tim Szeto, founder of Nano Magnetics, disputes the CPSC’s conclusion that the magnets should be banned entirely.

“In general, it’s a huge overreaction and kind of a really silly thing to do,” he said in interview with The DC News Foundation. “[The CPSC’s] reaction seems a little lopsided.”

Swallowing the magnets is a concern because if two or more balls enter the digestive tract, the magnetic attraction between them can cause internal injuries. The CPSC extrapolated from hospital data that the magnets may have been swallowed 1,700 times between 2009 and 2011. However, no deaths were reported in that time.

Huffman believes rare earth magnets can be used safely, especially with the new technology in place that gives Nanodots a highly unpalatable flavor.

“Based on our research, this is the solution the public and the CPSC are looking for,” wrote Huffman. “The outcry is to keep these magnets on the market, but to do so in a safe way.”

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