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Buckyballs to be Discontinued

October 31, 2012

That was the email I received today from Buckyballs. I suppose they sent that message to me since I have purchased products from them before. This is truly sad for a number of reasons.

And, in case you are not familiar with what Buckyballs are, they are magnetic desk toys. Basically, they're a bunch of little high-powered magnets in the shape of little balls about 5 millimeters across. They are designed to be a desk toy much like many of the other geeky toys many of us engineers tend to buy and have sitting around our offices. The difference with these, though, is that they are high-powered magnets and, if swallowed, they can cause serious internal injury and require surgery. Because of that, Buckyballs labels their products with some very strong warnings. They tell you not to put them in your nose or mouth or to swallow them. I think there are about five such warnings on their packages, including the outside package and the container they provide to house the balls.

Even though these warnings exist and in spite of the fact that these desk toys are not marketed to children, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission decided in its infinite wisdom to force the company to stop selling the products. However, the reason I felt compelled to blog about this was the way they went about it. Buckyballs had been working with the CPSC to do whatever they could to address concerns. But, the CSPC really did not care to work with them. They had already made up their minds and within about 4 hours after Buckyballs submitted a safety plan at the request of the Commission, the Commission sent out a notice that they were suing the company and they reached out to retailers to urge them to stop selling the “dangerous” product. And, nearly every retailer complied.

Buckyballs had this to say:

In 2010, The Consumer Product Safety Commission approved the safety program we currently have in place. Now, after more than two years, they're saying our extensive measures aren't enough and we should be put out of business. Out of more than half a billion magnets sold, the CPSC reports less than two-dozen incidents with our products. While even one incident is too many, we stand by our comprehensive safety program and believe responsible adults should still be able to enjoy Buckyballs® and Buckycubes™.

With their sales channels effectively shut down, the looming threat of legal action, etc., Buckyballs decided to stop selling the magnetic balls and cubes at the center of the CPSC’s complaint. What this will likely mean for the company is that it will go out of business. This was, after all, their primary product. Without it, their revenue stream is gone. We can thank the Commission for putting those people on the street.

And while product safety is important, I personally feel the Commission went too far on this one. There are many hazardous things that can hurt children. Out of the billions of products sold, a few incidents are truly a low percentage. Most importantly, it does not reflect a flaw in the product. Rather, it demonstrates that the purchasers were irresponsible. Children get hurt seriously every year from all kinds of things that adults should keep out of the reach of children.

To think a company can be put out of business at the hand of a 4-person panel without the due process of law is hardly the American way.

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