Federal agency targets Denver magnet company with no history of injury
In the wake of the mass shooting in Aurora a month ago, gun-control advocates in Colorado and across the country have upped the ante in pushing for stricter policies. And at the same time, some people in Denver are wondering why the federal government is trying to shut down a local business that sells a different kind of allegedly dangerous product.
Tiny magnet balls.
Zen Magnets, a company based in Denver, is now facing an administrative complaint from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency that claims the small magnets Zen sells are a serious safety hazard. The CPSC is pushing the business to notify consumers and recall its products.
This CPSC case has already made headlines at the Denver Post, Fox31 and even got a mention in a recent New York Times article. But what hasn't been reported is the relatively surprising fact that in the history of all administrative complaints by the CPSC, this could be the very first in which a company being targeted has no record of injuries. So it seems strange that a federal agency is devoting resources to stopping this company's products, which are 5mm super-magnet balls essentially used as stress relievers and building blocks for sculptures.
Flickr Zen Magnets
"I'm frustrated, angry and a little bit scared," says Shihan Qu, the 25-year-old owner of Zen Magnets. "I'm scared personally because my business, my baby, is in danger."
Qu, who was previously based in Boulder, says that he looked up all past administrative complaints through the federal registry and could not find a single example of a company targeted that didn't have some sort of history of injuries. It would appear that Zen Magnets is only the eighth business to receive this kind of complaint, and the ones on record all followed reports of injuries, or even deaths in some cases.
As Qu notes in a petition he has set up to save his business, the CPSC is going after all magnet companies that manufacture or distribute these kinds of products that can be very dangerous if swallowed. Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, which creates Buckyballs, has also faced an administrative complaint, though its product has been the focus of reports of injuries. But Qu says that his target market is not children, and he attributes his clean safety record in part to the fact that he only sells online, which means the magnets aren't getting into the hands of children. His products, he says, are generally used by consumers who understand the magnets and actively seek them out.
The CPSC says it is being proactive in stopping a very serious safety hazard. As it writes in its complaint against Zen Magnets:
If two or more of the magnets are ingested and their magnetic forces pull them together, the magnets can pinch or trap the intestinal walls or other digestive tissue between them resulting in acute and long-term health consequences. Magnets that attract through the walls of the intestines result in progressive tissue injury, beginning with local inflammation and ulceration, progressing to tissue death, then perforation or fistula formation. Such conditions can lead to infection, sepsis, and death.
"We do not want to be an agency that simply waits for more injuries to occur before we act," says CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson. "We are alleging that there is a defect with their product. We don't want to wait for the next child to end up in emergency services."
For some perspective on the CPSC's history, the most recent administrative complaint before the CPSC began targeting magnets dates back to 2001 against a company called Daisy Manufacturing Company, which makes BB guns. As that complaint notes, there were cases of at least 15 deaths and 171 serious injuries, including brain damage and permanent paralysis caused by defects in this company's powerline airguns. And most affected were children under the age of 18.
Another action against Red Devil gas grills from the CPSC came after 44 reports of consumers suffering burns to legs, hands and fingers, including some instances of third degree burns -- after the grills collapsed during use.
Continue reading for further responses from the CPSC and letters of support for Zen Magnets.