Polar magnet pen suffers health and safety setbacks

Shipping on the Kickstarter-funded, magnet-barrelled Polar Pen has been delayed by Health Canada, which has classified the pen as a "dangerous magnet set".

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
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Shipping on the Kickstarter-funded, magnet-barrelled Polar Pen has been delayed by Health Canada, which has classified the pen as a "dangerous magnet set".

(Credit: Andrew Gardner)

The Polar Pen — a pen-stylus hybrid housed in a barrel of tubular neodymium magnets — blasted past its CA$14,000 Kickstarter funding goal last month, bringing in a whopping CA$817,164. It was due to ship in November but now probably won't arrive until at least early 2014, thanks to the Canadian government's health department, Health Canada.

"It is with great frustration that we are informing you that the Health Canada has stated that the Polar Pen is a danger to human health and safety," creator Andrew Gardner wrote in an update. "On November 13, 2013, Health Canada informed us that they reviewed our response to their inquiry and are calling for 'The immediate stop of manufacturing, importing, advertising and selling of the Polar Pen + Stylus in Canada given that the product is considered a dangerous magnets set and a danger to human health or safety within the meaning of the CCPSA'."

Earlier this year, Health Canada announced that it would be cracking down on the sale of products that contain small, powerful magnets. "Health Canada is particularly concerned about novelty magnet sets containing more than one small, powerful magnet, regardless of the intended age of the user, where the set is intended for use as a toy or manipulative for general entertainment, such as puzzle working, sculpture building, mental stimulation or stress relief. The magnet sets of concern generally consist of hundreds of small, (various sizes, but commonly 5 millimetres in diameter) powerful rare earth element magnetic pieces in spherical, cube and/or cuboid shapes," its website says.

What this means for Canadian backers is that they may not be able to receive their magnets. Gardner is currently seeking a solution; but if it comes to a worst-case scenario, refunds will be issued or an alternate shipping address requested.

As for the rest of the backers worldwide, Gardner has had to move production of his product outside of Canada, partnering with a magnet distributor formerly located in Canada that has had to deal with many of the same issues.

"Our components are being diverted to their facility, and we hope to finally be assembling pens there soon," Gardner wrote. "Due to the issues with Health Canada, we have had to change our business plan and, therefore, are encountering setbacks. We hope that this partnership will help us move things forward quickly. We regretfully notify our November backers that we have missed our goal and will most likely be unable able to ship the products in time for Christmas. Within the next several days, we will have a better understanding of the situation and will notify you with a new expected delivery date. Regarding our February backers, at this time, we have no reason to believe that we will be unable to deliver your rewards on time."

This debacle follows last year's US Consumer Product Safety Commission ruling that Buckyballs and other small magnets pose a health hazard for children and are therefore no longer legal for sale in the US.

Buckyballs and other small magnets are also permanently banned in Australia — if they are used as part of a toy or puzzle (including adult desk toys), construction or modelling kit, or jewellery. Whether a magnet-barrelled pen falls under any of these categories is hard to ascertain, but the categories outlined are very similar to Health Canada's guidelines.

Perhaps this should stand as a lesson to do your homework before launching a Kickstarter campaign. "One of the biggest frustrations with Health Canada's decision is that small magnets are not illegal in Canada, and identical and even smaller magnets are available for purchase online and from over 100 Canadian retailers," Gardner wrote. "Prior to our Kickstarter campaign, we had no reason to believe that these same magnets would be illegal in a pen and still don't fully understand why smaller magnets, in multiples, are legal for sale but the Polar Pen is not."