After the Associated Press released the results of its investigation evaluating toxic cadmium in children’s jewelry on Sunday as a substitute for lead, I posted that using cadmium in jewelry pre-dated the lead content limits of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), but that I had seen an upswing in cadmium in jewelry and vinyl since the CPSIA. Cadmium in jewelry seems to have been more widely used since 2003, when cadmium prices dropped. The thing about cadmium is that it is shiny, strong and malleable at low temperatures – lower temperatures than zinc, the usual substitute for lead in jewelry.
I also decided to use my Niton XRF analyzer to do some super sleuthing a la Nancy Drew.
I purchased two necklaces from the girls’ section at Target on December 12, 2009. These necklaces are clearly intended for children – they are sold in the girl’s clothing department and the length is shorter than what would be common for an adult. So, I tested them. One tested fine, but the other tested high for cadmium. Using the Niton XRF analyzer, the heart shaped charm tested at 22,000 ppm cadmium and the star shaped charm tested at 64,000 ppm. Now, the “rhinestones” interfere a bit with the results, as does the shape of each charm, and since I didn’t want to damage the piece, I didn’t pry out the “rhinestones” or hammer the shape into something a bit easier to test. So, if Target was my client, then I would recommend wet testing to verify the results. But there is no doubt that both of these charms contain cadmium.
Charms are always problemmatic because kids have a tendency to stick them in their mouth. While these are intended for children old enough to know NOT to stick them in their mouths, I know that virtually every little girl I know mouths or sucks on their necklaces. Cadmium is a problem if swallowed, and can also result in low level exposures just from mouthing,
I know that since the Associated Press broke its story, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has reacted quickly to address the issues. CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum has made remarks at an international toy fair in Hong Kong urging manufacturers not to substitute cadmium in place of lead.
I had a great conversation with Scott Wolfson, CPSC spokesperson. It was actually a pleasure to speak with him, and his comments emphasized the dramatic change at the CPSC under President Obama. He stated that the CPSC is aiming for true clarity in the Asian marketplace, which seems very consistent with Tenenbaum’s comments in Asia following the cadmium. Wolfson however did state that parents may want to steer clear of lower cost jewelry if they are concerned about exposure.
Cadmium in children’s jewelry isn’t regulated under the CPSIA. There is a standard for soluble cadmium in paints and coatings used on children’s toys, but this standard isn’t applicable to metal worked into children’s jewelry. However, the CPSC can address the issue under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA). The CPSC can find the jewelry items to be “banned hazardous substances” under the FHSA if it finds that the items contain quantities of cadmium sufficient to cause substantial illness as a result of reasonably foreseeable handling or use, including reasonably foreseeable ingestion by children.
And this seems like good advice in light of comments from jewelry industry representatives like He Huihua, manager of the Suiyuan Jewelry Shop in Yiwu. As reported by the Associated Press, he stated, “We just make what our clients order. If they pay more, we use the better raw material, and vice-versa. From a few cents to a few dollars, we can make the same style of jewelry product with a different raw material.” In response to a question regarding the health risks associated with cadmium, he answered “I can’t be overly concerned about that.” The AP reports “interviews with more than a dozen manufacturers and sellers in Yiwu confirm that cadmium is a common ingredient in the earrings, bracelts, charms and other baubles being churned out by local factories.”
When it comes to jewelry, zinc alloys cost more than cadmium, so with everybody wanting lower prices, substituting cadmium seems to make financial sense. Unfortunately.