(Updated January 13, 2010 – I made a mistake in one of the ppm statement which is now corrected.)
Did you think lead was the only concern in children’s jewelry? Unfortunately, no.
The Associated Press reports that Chinese manufacturers are switching to the toxic metal cadmium in children’s jewelry because they are barred from using lead under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). To be honest, I’m not sure that it completely accurate. As stated in the article, jewelry industry veterans say that cadmium has been used in products for Chinese markets for years. I think many of those were imported into the US as well. In my experience testing using my Niton XRF Analyzer, I found cadmium in children’s jewelry before the CPSIA was enacted, although it is probably true that manufacturers looking for a substitute for lead because of the CPSIA may be turning to cadmium, especially since the price of cadmium has plummeted recently, although the more common replacement for lead is zinc.
In any event, the AP articles reports on its investigation involving 103 children’s jewelry items, almost all of which were purchased in November and December of last year. Those 103 items were tested, and 12 of the items contained at least 10% cadmium (or more than 100,000 ppm cadmium). Included in this list are pendants featuring “The Princess and The Frog” characters. The items were purchased at Walmart, Claire’s and a dollar store. In addition, two other items contained lower amounts of cadmium, and 89 of the items were free of cadmium.
According to the AP story, the most contaminated piece was a shocking 91% cadmium by weight, or 910,000 ppm. Other jewelry items tested at 89%, 86% and 84% cadmium by weight.
Cadmium is a known carcinogen. It is also listed on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm as a reproductive toxicant for males.
Kids don’t have to swallow an item to be exposed. They can get low level doses of cadmium by mouthing, biting or sucking on the jewelry items, as kids tend to do.
The AP investigation also tested the items with high cadmium to see if any exposure would occur if the items were swallowed. This testing involved an acid bath designed to mimic stomach acid. Three flip flop bracelet charms sold at Walmart contained between 84 and 86 percent cadmium. These charms fared the worst in the stormach acid test. One of the charms leached more cadmium in 24 hours than what the World Health Organization would deem a safe exposure over 60 weeks for a 33 pound child.
In several tweets on Sunday, Scott Wolfson. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesperson, indicated that the CPSC would be investigating the matter and that the CPSC was on its way to China to address the issue. Keep in mind that the CPSIA does not regulate total cadmium content in children’s products. Instead, under the CPSIA, there is a limit for soluble cadmium in paints and coatings used on children’s toys. However, the CPSC can pursue products that the CPSC deems to be a public danger under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act – as it used to do for lead in children’s jewerly before the CPSIA was enacted. And, of course, in California, items that expose a consumer to significant risk level of cadmium must have a Proposition 65 warning.
In addition to jewelry as discussed in the article, I’ve also seen an increase in cadmium turning up in vinyl items. Cadmium compounds can be used to stabilize vinyl just as lead can be used, and with the regulation of lead under the CPSIA, I’ve seen many more vinyl items with cadmium in the last year in my XRF testing.