In January, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's chairwoman took an unusual step and warned parents against buying an entire category of product: Cheap children's jewelry. Why? Levels of lead and cadmium, both of which are neurotoxins that can cause permanent brain damage if young children are exposed, are high in so many cheap jewelry sets on the market.
Lead has been the only metal to prompt recalls of children's jewelry in the past several years, since 4-year-old Jarnell Brown swallowed a metal charm that was nearly 100% lead, and died in March 2006. Since 2004, 180 million pieces of kid's jewelry have been recalled because of high lead levels, and since 2009, regulations on lead content in children's jewelry have been made stricter. But, following an Associated Press investigation, consumer advocates are warning that cadmium which in some cases has been used as a replacement for lead is the newest threat hidden in gumball machine dispensers and dollar stores. Since the report, several chains, including Walmart, have pulled children's jewelry made in China because of high cadmium levels, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has called for a ban on the use of cadmium in children's jewelry. However, it took the CPSC nearly five months to act on the AP tests, which identified the Claire's children's jewelry as a concern, since they are made with as much as 90% cadmium.
CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum warned manufacturers against using cadmium in January, while speaking in Hong Kong, but she had a more direct warning for parents:
"Because of these recent developments, I have a message for parents, grandparents and caregivers: Do not allow young children to be given or to play with cheap metal jewelry, especially when they are unsupervised," she wrote. "We have proof that lead in children's jewelry is dangerous and was pervasive in the marketplace. To prevent young children from possibly being exposed to lead, cadmium or any other hazardous heavy metal, take the jewelry away.... The key message that I want parents to know is: We will act to protect young children, but take the metal jewelry away from children who will swallow, suck or chew on it while our work continues."
She added: "It is very difficult for a parent to determine if an item contains harmful levels of a metal in a specific item except by checking recalls listed on the CPSC Website. Parents should know that swallowing, sucking on or chewing a metal charm or necklace could result in exposure to lead, cadmium or other heavy metals, which are known to be toxic at certain levels of exposure."
In May, the CPSC expanded its crackdown on toxic cadmium by investigating imports at ports. Several states are cracking down, too.
The Daily Green reports on all toxic toys recalled because of lead, cadmium or other toxic hazards. We've also put together a feature highlighting the latest children's jewelry recalls.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.