Saving Magnets A Massive Battle

Via The Huffington Post

By Jeremy Kutner

Published AUGUST 21, 2017

Shihan Qu stood before an industrial gas furnace in a cavernous metal treatment plant on the outskirts of Denver wearing a novelty tuxedo T-shirt and dark-framed hipsterish glasses. He was there to hear a eulogy for his magnets.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in solemn remembrance and fond celebration of the lives of these perfectly good, not-at-all-defective magnet spheres,” said Eric Sigurdson, Qu’s most loyal employee. He addressed the tiny orbs directly, barely audible above the rumble of the huge machines. “May you one day be reforged as part of a spaceship to effect your ultimate homecoming among the supernovas that once begat you billions of years ago.”

A federal judge had ordered thousands of Qu’s BB-sized metal balls ― once among America’s most popular novelty gifts ― to be destroyed because Qu had bought them from a company that promised to stop all sales as part of a government effort to protect children. Their end came in a 1,000 degree Fahrenheit furnace, where they would demagnetize, their shiny coatings would melt, and they would be left charred and dark and useless. Qu, his girlfriend, Sigurdson, furnace workers and a federal regulator looked on.

The April meltdown was the latest dramatic turn in 30-year-old Qu’s relentless five-year legal fight against the federal government to save his magnets. They have been linked to horrifying injuries ― gleaming spheres swallowed by unsuspecting children can snap together inside their intestines, boring holes in the tissue or causing their bowels to twist and leading to potentially fatal consequences. But how regulators tried to protect the vulnerable ― convincing every major domestic seller, except for Qu, to take the magnets off the market, and then banning the magnets entirely ― struck many as the regulatory state run amok.

Qu has seen himself labeled a reckless purveyor of products that hurt children and watched the entire industry of super-strong novelty magnetic playthings crumble around him. It has even put him before Neil Gorsuch ― then an appeals court judge, now President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court pick ― in an effort to prove that the ban should be overturned. But while Qu was becoming the poster child for what some saw as evidence of Obama-era regulatory overstep, he was actually winning.

With a soul patch and a direct manner of speaking, Qu seems more like an overly earnest college student than a scorched-earth litigant. He and his mother immigrated to Colorado from China when he was 3. They settled into Denver life easily. His mother worked as a database manager for a professional association in the health care field. He was an early entrepreneur, selling popsicles to fellow elementary school students for a small profit. In college, he posted an instructional video online of how to make a bong out of a glass bottle.

He found his life’s calling on a camping trip eight years ago. Just before setting out, he had bought a set of unusually powerful magnet balls made from “rare earth” elements on the internet. While his friends enjoyed the natural splendors on the trip, Qu could not stop twisting and stacking magnets into an array of shapes. He was entranced. “Magnets,” he realized, “are a kind of magic.”

The full 5700 word article is available at