Justin Pritchard, Associated Press, February 4, 2010

Aeropostale, Saks outlets pull necklaces with cadmium amid growing fears about health risks.

The teen fashion chain Aeropostale and outlet stores of upscale Saks Fifth Avenue have pulled from shelves necklaces that an environmental group's tests showed have high levels of the toxic metal cadmium.

Aeropostale, Inc. went one step further, saying Thursday that from now on, no amount of cadmium will be acceptable in its jewelry – and that suppliers will have to prove products are clean with independent lab testing.

The announcements are the latest fallout from an Associated Press investigation which last month reported some children's jewelry is contaminated with cadmium, a known carcinogen that also can harm bones and kidneys.

In response to that reporting, the California-based Center for Environmental Health tested adult jewelry bought at stores including Aeropostale and Saks' Off 5th outlets, and this week threatened to sue the retailers after lab results showed between 25 and 75 percent of the items' total weight was cadmium.

The announcement from Aeropostale was significant because it represented the first time a company has said it is effectively banning cadmium in adult jewelry. Aeropostale has more than 900 locations in the United States and Canada.

Cheap metal jewelry worn by children and typically imported from China has to date been the focus of reaction by federal regulators, lawmakers and retailers. Kids are of particular concern because they bite or suck on jewelry and thus are more likely to be exposed to any cadmium it contains.

What risk adults may face isn't clear. Typically the metal requires long-term exposure to cause problems. The amounts adults might ingest from cadmium-contaminated jewelry are presumably lower than children because the route into the body is less direct – microscopic amounts could shed onto the hands of an adult who handles a necklace, and then be ingested either during eating or putting a contaminated finger to the mouth.

Saks and Aeropostale came under scrutiny after the Center for Environmental Health took samples from products sold at a range of retailers. Tests determined that jewelry at four retailers, including Saks and Aeropostale, had high levels of the substance.

The item Aeropostale pulled was a men's necklace that the environmental group's testing showed had a circular pendant with high levels of cadmium. It was made in India.

"Aeropostale's top priority is our customers and the quality of our merchandise," the company said in a statement. "Customers can return the necklace to any Aeropostale store and we will safely dispose of it. Further, we have notified our vendors that, effective immediately, all jewelry must also be tested for cadmium, in addition to our existing testing protocols, at an independent lab. We will not accept any product that contains cadmium."

Saks Inc. offered little reaction on Tuesday, when the center released results of high-cadmium items that included a black-colored link necklace which sold for $69.99, marked down from $149.99 according to the label.

On Thursday, Saks' spokeswoman Julia Bentley said only 10 of the necklaces have been sold in California, but that "because of the CEH threat of a lawsuit" all 55 Off 5th stores nationally are pulling any remaining necklaces from shelves. Customers can return the item for a refund, Bentley said.

In its initial news release on the results, the Center for Environmental Health said the necklace was bought at Saks Fifth Avenue; Bentley said that Off 5th sold the item, and on Thursday center spokesman Charles Margulis confirmed that is where center staff bought it. Bentley would not say whether the necklace was ever sold at Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

Margulis said the nonprofit will pursue lawsuits regardless of whether stores pull items.

"We don't know what the rest of their inventory may or may not contain," Margulis said. "Our goal is a settlement that will cover all their products."

To get there, the center has threatened a lawsuit under a California law it used to set stringent limits on lead in both adult and children's jewelry. The settlement of a similar 2006 lawsuit was pivotal in national efforts to reduce lead levels in all metal jewelry sold in the United States.

There is no limit under federal law on cadmium in any jewelry – children's or adult – sold in the U.S.

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