This Month’s Flavor for Toxic Jewelry: Cadmi-yumm

So it turns out that cadmium (atomic number forty-eight, for those of you scoring at home) is more than an otherwise-meaningless square on the periodic table. It’s also a toxic heavy metal found in our children’s jewelry.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press (AP) reported on high levels of cadmium found in children’s jewelry recently bought from major retailers. In a few cases, the cadmium levels were shockingly high, with some kids’ pieces made from more than 80% of the toxic metal.

Since the news broke, media crews and concerned parents have been flooding into our office and burning up our phone lines for comments and advice.  “Is it true?”  “Is cadmium dangerous?”  “What should I do?”  “Are communist Chinese trying to poison rosy-cheeked American children again?”

Our answers in order are:  “Yes,” “Yes,” “Stay calm,” and “Please stop calling us, Mr. Dobbs.”

The AP revelations are particularly chilling because new federal rules on lead in children’s products fail to adequately address concerns about cadmium and other heavy metals in jewelry and children’s products. The new law bans cadmium, but only in toys.  Technically, this ban does not apply to jewelry or other children’s items.

The AP story has prompted Congress to plug this loophole, and both the Senate and House are looking at bills that would ban cadmium and other heavy metals from all products for children twelve years old and under.

In the past, CEH has found some cadmium-tainted jewelry items, although only very rarely have we found cadmium levels as high as the appalling levels AP found. As AP’s follow-up article notes, some jewelry makers have favored cadmium-tainted metals since at least 2003, so it’s not surprising that we have sometimes found jewelry items tainted with cadmium.

That ominous bassoon dirge that you now hear (or is that just me?) is the suggestion that, since the new lead law has been in place, some jewelry producers are intentionally using metals high in cadmium to replace the leaded metals that are now forbidden. A 2008 study also suggested that high levels of cadmium could be from electronic waste shipped overseas and improperly “recycled” into jewelry (another reason CEH has long worked for responsible e-waste management and safer materials in electronics).

Is the jewelry industry turning children’s products into a toxic-chemical-of-the-month-club?  What’s next, depleted uranium teething rings? (“They’re X-tra Tuff!”)

Bottom line:  there’s no excuse for making and selling products that expose children to cadmium or any other highly toxic substance.  We urge Congress to take strong and immediate action to protect kids, and we applaud Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Inez Tenenbaum’s statement, promising swift action against companies that use cadmium or other heavy metals in products for children.

In the meantime, our advice for parents remains: do not let children wear, touch, suck on, mouth, or play with metal jewelry.