Zen Magnets Destroys 400,000 High-Powered Magnets after Court Order

Denver-based Magnet sphere company Zen Magnets successfully fought the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in court over the safety of its high-powered, neodymium magnets called ‘neoballs’. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the first CPSC ruling in 32 years in Zen’s favor.

The trouble started in 2012, when federal consumer safety regulators told 13 companies to cease manufacturing, importing or distributing magnet spheres, which were marketed to adults. The CPSC was concerned such magnets could lead to serious internal injuries if swallowed by children.

The CPSC sued companies who failed to comply, but Zen Magnets fought the order. In 2014, the CPSC banned the magnets. In 2016, the 10th Circuit overturned the ban. It argued the CPSC didn’t follow regulatory guidelines in pursuit of the ban.

The former Magnicube inventory was not protected by the 10th Circuit’s ruling. Zen would still need to destroy about a half-million serviceable magnets weighing 500 pounds by heating them above 450°F (~230°C) to destroy their magnetism.

“It’s been a giant red tape-lined pain in the butt,” Zen Magnets founder Shihan Qu told me. “Magnicube didn’t want to deal with fighting so they settled and recalled and we purchased their excess inventory. CPSC then said we were therefore selling a recalled product, and had technically ‘violated’ our competitor’s settlement agreement.”

The CPSC disapproved of an idea to burn the magnets in a pyre, which was supposed to take place February 28. Qu also requested to encase the magnets permanently in resin to make artsy carbonite-esque sculptures.

“They didn’t like that idea either,” says Qu. “It wasn’t enough ‘destruction’”.

The magnets, altogether three cubic feet in volume, were finally destroyed on April 26 with heat treating ovens at Denver’s ISO certified Metal Treating & Research Co. The facility holds dozens of gas and electrical ovens for heating of metals. Zen Magnets turned the ovens up to 800°F, far exceeding the 450–500°F needed for permanent demagnetization

Destroying the magnets was fun for Qu, who had spent $200,000 on them. “It wasn’t a sad event for me,” he says. “Acceptance came long ago. It was already a sunk cost. I was just completing actions that were already ordered.”

He’s upbeat about his company’s courtroom victory. “We were the first to overturn a CPSC rule in 32 years,” Qu told me. “Also, the first to defeat a CPSC recall in more than 20 years.”

On Monday, Zen released a video documenting the magnet’s destruction. “Perhaps [the neoballs] sacrifice will someday inspire an interesting discussion or two in a law or philosophy classroom, regarding what exactly these magnets are in their bare essence as opposed to what box they happen to occupy at the moment, what label happens to be affixed to that box,” reads the video’s narrator.

Zen bids adieu to the magnets: “And so it is that we destroy these perfectly good magnet spheres — may you one day be re-forged as part of a spaceship to affect your ultimate homecoming among the supernovas that once begat you, billions of years ago.”

The only magnet sphere company in the U.S. today, Zen contends the over-regulation of the magnet sphere industry has led to offshore companies, mostly from China, dominating the market in the U.S.

“The safety of consumers is at stake,” Zen wrote in a note to the press.

Check out the video below: