Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan on Thursday called on the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to classify rare-earth magnets as a "banned hazardous product" when used in children's toys.
A Tribune investigation, published in May, uncovered red flags the federal safety agency missed about popular Magnetix toys shedding dangerous magnets -- warnings that presaged the death of a suburban Seattle toddler and the serious intestinal injuries of more than two dozen other children. When swallowed, the aspirin-size magnets, which are made of strong natural materials, can tear through a child's intestines.
Madigan also on Thursday asked Dollar Tree Stores Inc. to remove two other brands of toys that contain the magnets from its 3,219 stores, and she requested that Florida toy firm Ja-Ru Inc. halt distribution of a third brand of toy that contains the small but powerful magnets.
On Wednesday the safety commission released a "Top Five Hidden Home Hazards" list. The magnets were the first item on the list, which noted that toys with the magnets have been responsible for the death of the toddler and 86 injuries to others.
More than two months ago, Madigan's staff sent three toys with the magnets to the commission, asking for an investigation because they resemble the recalled Magnetix toys. Two of the toys, Mag Links and Mini Mag Links, were distributed through the Dollar Tree Stores, headquartered in Chesapeake, Va., and the third, Magnet Magic Linkz, are distributed by Ja-Ru Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla.
In the letter addressed to acting CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord, Madigan noted that "we requested that you investigate these toys to determine whether they present a risk to children. ... To date, you have not formally responded to our letter.
"The fact that these knockoff toys remain on store shelves demonstrates a clear flaw in the approach taken to recall dangerous toys," Madigan's letter stated.
Timothy Reid, a spokesman for Dollar Tree Stores, said the company had not gotten the letter yet. But, "We take all issues involving health and safety very seriously. We will investigate this matter thoroughly and act appropriately."
Officials at Ja-Ru did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.
Julie Vallese, spokeswoman for Nord, said the agency would have no immediate comment on the Madigan letter.
Following the Tribune's disclosures, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced legislation aimed at significantly expanding the commission's ability to protect consumers. The legislation would increase funding to the agency and beef up penalties for retailers that knowingly sell recalled products.
Durbin's legislation is designed to reform the agency that polices the safety of 15,000 types of consumer goods. That measure would empower the commission to alert the public about dangerous products when firms refuse to recall them, which is something the agency can't easily do now. Current law includes a provision that forces the commission to notify a firm of any negative comments it plans to make about a product and give that company 30 days to challenge the statements.
As a result, the agency ends up negotiating every word of a recall alert with the product's maker. The Tribune investigation found the negotiated recall notices can be confusing and mislead consumers and retailers as to which models are dangerous.
In the Web edition
To learn more about the Tribune investigation into magnetic toys, go to chicago tribune.com/magnets.