Effective January 1, 2012, it will be illegal to sell children's jewelry in the state of California that contains more than .003 percent (300 parts per million) of cadmium. The new law applies to those that manufacture, ship, sell or offer jewelry for sale in California for children ages six years old or younger. In addition to substantial civil penalties for inadvertent violation of this standard, the law imposes criminal penalties for the knowing and intentional distribution of offending jewelry. Cadmium is alleged to cause delayed brain development, cancer, kidney problems and bone damage.

Although the law applies only to jewelry for young children and is not effective until 2012, prudent distributors and retailers should immediately begin working with their suppliers to regulate cadmium content in any product that may be sold in California. Indeed, if feasible, cadmium should be eliminated completely. It is included on the list of chemicals subject to Proposition 65 (The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986), which does not limit its reach to jewelry nor to children's products. Proposition 65 is a California law that regulates specific substances known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Litigation and Regulation

Litigation against suppliers of costume jewelry alleged to contain excessive cadmium levels is in full swing in California, and it is anticipated that other products will be targeted by Proposition 65 enforcers. Proposition 65 litigation is time-consuming and expensive, and all efforts should be made to avoid it.

Considerations for Distributors and Retailers

Exhausted and frustrated distributors and retailers – who ironically began using cadmium as a replacement for lead to avoid these very issues – may very well be tempted to avoid California all together. But given the size of the market, the California law effectively establishes a new national standard for cadmium in children's jewelry. In addition, other states already regulate cadmium. Accordingly, the best course of action is to work with suppliers, institute internal controls, engage reputable testing labs and establish redundant testing protocols.