Apart from the furor over the dangers of allowing small magnets into the hands of children, there’s a less-known issue with these intriguing fidget toys for grown-ups — they spontaneously self-destruct.
The original “Buckyballs” vendor was threatened with lawsuits for endangering children. The main issue revolved around labeling and the fact that these “kits” of small spherical neodymium magnets were promoted as desktop playthings for grown-ups. Which meant they were toys. Which meant that kids might think they were kids’ toys, and eat a few.
It only takes eating two of them to pose life-threatening danger. Not so much because of toxicity, although the ingredients are a little toxic, especially in the lungs and eyes, but for mechanical reasons. If two or more are swallowed, especially with some time between them, there is a real chance they might pass through the intestines separated from one another, and end up pulling two adjacent sections of the meandering intestine together. If they pull together through the very thin walls of the intestine, it probably won’t take very long for them to penetrate the tissue and come together, making a pair of holes that is likely to swiftly cause sepsis and require emergency surgery. I’m not sure anyone ever died from this, but some kids apparently did get hospitalized. Adults often forget that kids like to put everything in their mouths.
During the aforementioned furor, several batches of colorful Buckyballs were liquidated at a deep discount, and I bought a few hundred for some sculpture pieces. After the 2017 gallery show ended, I gently laid the Buckyball assemblies in padded boxes for storage. Two years later, many of the spheres have cracked through their nickel plating and sent weird smokey filaments of magnet dust out along the lines of force connecting adjacent magnets. It’s fascinating, somewhat beautiful, and a bit disturbing, too.
I’m not sure how to remove these super-fine particles, since they’re magnetized and stick to themselves and all the other magnets. And I’m not eager to inhale any of the dust if it loses its attraction to the other materials. And rubbing it into my hands isn’t very wise, either. So, with some caution, I’ll attempt to clean up the mess, but I suspect these things will continue to deteriorate over time. Maybe the best plan is to seal them in a transparent container and let the whole assembly gradually turn into chaos.