state Department of Toxic Substances Control announced Tuesday that six
Southern California companies were selling jewelry with lead levels far
exceeding California's legal limits.

Labels on some of the jewelry, the agency noted, claimed that the products were lead free.

is a toxic metal which does not belong in jewelry," said Maziar
Movassaghi, acting director of the agency. "The fact that items are
mislabeled as lead free is extremely disturbing."

Most of the tainted jewelry was imported from China, the agency said.

children, lead exposure can cause neurological damage and learning
impairment. In adults, it's associated with cardiovascular disease and
certain cancers, as well as memory loss.

A 2007 state law limits
the amount of lead in children's jewelry to 200 parts per million or
660 ppm, depending on the component used. The law now covers adult
jewelry as well.

Yet the state agency found more than 30 pieces
of lead-tainted jewelry in the six locations. Wooden angel pendants
sold at one firm were made of nearly three-quarters lead. A turquoise
stone pendant necklace also contained extremely high levels of lead, as
did medallions and crosses, which some people press to their lips while

The state's testing mirrored similar findings by the
Center for Environmental Health in Oakland. Between November and March,
it purchased jewelry from 23 retailers, and found that six sold
products violating the state's
lead-in-jewelry laws. The Oakland group said it also notified Longs
Drugs four times in the past six months that it was selling
lead-tainted jewelry in California; however, the state agency also
found jewelry with excess lead at a Longs store in Northridge.

DeAngelis, a spokesman for Longs, said in an e-mail that after the
state Attorney General's office contacted the chain in March about the
tainted jewelry in its Northridge location, "we removed the product
from our store immediately." DeAngelis didn't respond to questions
regarding Longs' policy for screening products sold in its California
stores for excess lead.

The toxic substances control agency said
consumers wishing to test products for lead can purchase testing kits
at most hardware stores. Any product found to exceed state levels
should be returned to the place of purchase.