During the last decade, research by public health experts and investigations by CEH and others found that lead and cadmium were common in jewelry for children and adults. Children are particularly at risk from these toxic metals, especially young children who may suck on and even accidentally swallow lead-tainted items. In 2006, a four year old died days after swallowing a metal charm that was made almost entirely of lead. Numerous other children have been poisoned by jewelry containing high levels of lead.

Since 2003, CEH has led the effort to protect children and others from toxic-tainted jewelry. We began widespread jewelry testing in 2003, and in 2004 we filed the first legal action in the country to stop the sale of lead-tainted jewelry. Our work helped prompt the largest consumer product recall in U.S. history when just weeks after our legal action, more than 150 million pieces of potentially lead-tainted pieces of jewelry for kids were removed from vending machines nationwide. We also initiated legal action in 2010 regarding cadmium in jewelry.  Cadmium is listed under Proposition 65 by California because it can cause birth defects, reproductive harm, and cancer.

In 2006, together with the California Attorney General, we reached a landmark legal agreement banning lead in jewelry from more than 70 major jewelry retailers and suppliers, including Target, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Toys R Us, Disney and dozens of others. Our legal settlement formed the basis for the tough jewelry law adopted by California.

In February 2010, CEH initiated the nation’s first legal action against stores and jewelry distributors after testing found high levels of cadmium in jewelry from several national retailers, including stores that cater to young girls. CEH entered into legal agreements with 36 companies, including major retailers like Claires, Gap, Target, and Hot Topic, that applied California’s strict limits on the level of cadmium in children’s jewelry to all jewelry including jewelry marketed to tweens, teens and adults. Setting such limits for adult jewelry not only protects pregnant women but also children who enjoy wearing their parents’ jewelry.

In 2018 we found 31 jewelry items sold at major national retailers, including Ross, Nordstrom, and Walgreens, containing between 40% to 100% cadmium, with many containing more than 90% of the toxic metal. CEH has sent legal notices to 17 companies for violating the consumer protection law by failing to warn customers.

In the early stages of the litigation, Papaya said the company has recalled the products where contamination was found and stopped buying from the manufacturer in China. Nordstrom said the company “reached out to these vendors to make them aware of the situation and get more information on these items.”

For more information you can see our 2008 Illegal and Unhealthy: Lead in California Jewelry and a 2010 peer-reviewed study demonstrating the success of our work on lead in jewelry, Reduction in the Prevalence of Lead-Containing Jewelry in California Following Litigation and Legislation.

Because of the serious risks, CEH advises parents to avoid all cheap metal jewelry, especially for younger children. Look for jewelry made of safer materials and buy from trusted sources. Keep adult costume jewelry away from kids, and if you’re pregnant or may become pregnant, avoid cheap metal jewelry.