Under CPSIA, the use of lead in children's products is highly regulated and restricted. A recent study commissioned by Associated Press demonstrates that some manufacturers are now using cadmium in lieu of lead in children's jewelry. Two bills working their way through Congress aim to stop this by banning the use of toxic heavy metals, including cadmium, in children's jewelry.

Study reveals inexpensive children's jewelry often has cadmium content

Last fall, the Associated Press commissioned Dr. Jeff Weidenhamer of Ashland University to conduct lab testing of children's jewelry. Dr. Weidenhamer and his team tested 103 pieces of inexpensive children's jewelry purchased in Ohio, Texas, California and New York and found high levels of cadmium in the jewelry.  

As Dr. Weidenhamer explains:

"The items were screened for the presence of high levels of cadmium using a technique called X-ray fluorescence. A total of 14 items contained more than 10% cadmium based on these tests. Additional testing was done on several of the high-cadmium jewelry items to determine the amounts of cadmium that might leach from the items if swallowed, and to determine the total cadmium content of items based on digestion of the metal in acid.

The maximum cadmium content found was 91.0%, or 910,000, in a Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer charm purchase at a dollar store in New York by Judy Braiman of the Empire State Consumer Group of Rochester, NY. Charms on another bracelet contained 89 and 91% cadmium, and a necklace pendant contained 79% cadmium. All of these pieces released dangerously high amounts of cadmium in leaching tests.

Cadmium is a toxic metal that is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The primary hazard of chronic cadmium exposure is kidney damage, however recent research also links cadmium exposure to learning disabilities and loss of IQ in young children. The World Health Organization estimates the tolerable weekly intake for cadmium to be 7 micrograms per kg body weight per week. There are currently no standards for the cadmium content of jewelry items intended for children." For additional detail regarding the study, see the full Associated Press story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Senator Schumer explained in a January 13, 2010 statement:

“This new report shows that cadmium is not only extremely harmful to our children but also extremely common in children’s products across the United States. There is enough evidence about how dangerous this metal is that we must take action immediately so no more children are put in harm’s way. It’s time to get this toxic metal—and all others like it—out of children’s jewelry and keep it out.”

On January 29, 2010, Walmart announced a voluntary recall of two necklaces with high levels of cadmium. Because sale of children's jewelry containing cadmium is not currently prohibited, the recall was voluntary. A safe alternative to lead that is currently being used by many manufacturers is zinc.

S. 2976 - Safe Kids' Jewelry Act and H.R. 4428 Children's Toxic Metals Act

On January 13, 2010, Representative Speier introduced H.R. 4428, the Children's Toxic Metals Act, and on Febraury 2, 2010, Senator Schumer introduced S. 2975, the Safe Kids' Jewelry Act.

The identical bills prohibit the manufacture, sale or distribution of children's jewelry containing cadmium (Cd), barium (Ba), and antimony (Sb). If a piece of children's jewelry contains any of these chemicals, then the jewelry will be deemed a banned hazardous substance under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and persons who manufacture, sell or distribute the jewelry could be subject to criminal and civil penalties. The bills do not apply to “selling activity that is intermittent.”

Under the bills, "children's jewelry" is defined to include charms, bracelets, pendants, necklaces, earrings, or rings that are “designed or intended to be worn or used by children 12 years of age or younger and is sold or distributed at retail.” The test for determining whether the piece of jewelry is for children ages 12 and under parallels the test under the CPSIA and considers statements by the manufacturer, product labels, product advertising and packaging, customer perception and age guidelines adopted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The bills also require the CPSC to make annual reports to Congress on their efforts to enforce the law. Further, CPSC must study whether any other heavy metals should likewise be banned from children's products.

As written, the bills would take effect 90 days after their passage.