Kids’ Jewelry—Still Toxic


Cadmium in children’s jewelry has been recognized as a persistent health threat—but a recent Associated Press investigation reveals that little has been done on the federal level to get these items off store shelves and inform parents who may have already purchased them. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was tasked with investigating the extent of cadmium found in inexpensive children’s play jewelry after the AP revealed that Chinese factories were using cadmium as a substitute for lead in the products. Cadmium is a metal and carcinogen with dangerous known health consequences—if children mouth the products, it can lead to a build-up that can cause kidney damage and fragile bones prone to breaking. Cadmium exposure has also been tied to cancer. Swallowing products high in cadmium could lead to severe stomach irritation, vomiting and diarrhea or even death.

Despite the fact that the AP alerted the CPSC to the problem of cadmium in kid’s jewelry two years ago, they note that “the CPSC still hasn’t determined the extent of the contamination.” And, they add: “Officials at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also have not warned parents about the contaminated items already in their homes.”

Part of the CPSC’s follow-up to the cadmium information was to do a children’s jewelry sweep at stores across the nation. Testing revealed that six products, including a “baby bracelet,” contained dangerous levels of cadmium, but the products were not pulled from shelves, nor were consumers informed. The agency, the article notes, has taken the side of manufacturers in allowing these products to continue to be sold by agreeing that they do not technically fit the legal definition of “children’s product.” Adult products do not have any cadmium restrictions.

Performing its own investigation, the AP sent reporters to 12 L.A. shops where items were purchased under the guide of being for a kindergarten-age child. They report: “Twenty of 64 items purchased were at least 5 percent cadmium, and often much higher, according to tests using an Olympus Innov-X X-ray fluorescence gun that estimates what metals are in jewelry. Subsequent lab testing showed that several pendants were hazardous based on CPSC guidelines. One was 85 percent cadmium.”

The agency has been revealed as enormously overwhelmed and unable to meet the needs of checking and restricting the billions of consumer goods that cross our borders. There are only 19 CSPC inspectors at 15 ports in the U.S.; and only 545 employees work for CPSC full-time.

As in other campaigns waged against toxins in children’s products, it is retailers and states who have taken decisive action. Wal-Mart voluntarily pulled items from store shelves due to high cadmium levels including a line of Miley Cyrus jewelry in 2010. Target and Gap Inc. also committed to ridding their shelves of cadmium beginning in 2012—with a policy that would permit only .03% of the metal or less in kids’ jewelry. ( That came about due to a California law that, because of the state’s influence, becomes national policy for the stores including Aeropostale, Old Navy, Banana Republic and the jewelry and accessory store Claire’s.

And states with bans on cadmium content in children’s jewelry include Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. The European Union set a ban on cadmium in jewelry that took effect in December 2011.