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Cadmium found in trinkets from China

By Justin Pritchard
Associated Press / January 11, 2010

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LOS ANGELES - Barred from using lead in children’s jewelry because of its toxicity, some Chinese manufacturers have been substituting the more dangerous heavy metal cadmium in sparkling charm bracelets and shiny pendants being sold throughout the United States.

The most contaminated piece analyzed in lab testing performed for the Associated Press contained 91 percent cadmium by weight. The cadmium content of other contaminated trinkets tested at 89 percent, 86 percent, and 84 percent by weight. The testing also showed that some items easily shed the heavy metal, raising additional concerns about the levels to which children are exposed.

Cadmium is a known carcinogen and, like lead, can hinder brain development in the very young, according to recent research. Children don’t have to swallow an item to be exposed - they can get persistent, low-level doses by regularly sucking or biting on jewelry with a high cadmium content.

The AP organized lab testing of 103 items bought in New York, Ohio, Texas, and California. Twelve percent of the pieces contained at least 10 percent cadmium.

“There’s nothing positive that you can say about this metal. It’s a poison,’’ said Bruce A. Fowler, a toxicologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On its list of the 275 most hazardous substances in the environment, cadmium ranks number seven.

A patchwork of federal consumer protection regulations does nothing to keep these nuggets of cadmium from US store shelves.

While the Consumer Product Safety Commission has cracked down on the dangers posed by lead, it has never recalled an item for cadmium - even though it has received scattered complaints based on private test results for at least the past two years.

There is no definitive explanation for why children’s jewelry manufacturers, virtually all from China in the items tested, are turning to cadmium. But one reason could be that cadmium prices have plummeted as factories grasp for substitutes, now that lead is heavily regulated.

The jewelry testing for the AP was conducted by chemistry professor Jeff Weidenhamer of Ashland University in Ohio. His test results include:

■Three flip-flop bracelet charms sold at Wal-Mart contained between 84 and 86 percent cadmium.

The company that imported them, Florida-based Sulyn Industries, stopped selling the item to Wal-Mart Corp. in November 2008, the firm’s president said. Wal-Mart would not comment on whether the charms are still on store shelves, or how many have been sold. Neither Sulyn nor Wal-Mart would address whether products should be recalled.

■Four charms from two Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer bracelets sold at a Dollar N More store in Rochester, N.Y., were measured at between 82 and 91 percent cadmium.

The importer, Buy-Rite Designs Inc., of Freehold, N.J., has gone out of business.

■Two charms on a Best Friends bracelet bought at Claire’s consisted of 89 and 91 percent cadmium. Informed of the results, Claire’s issued a statement pointing out that children’s jewelry is not required to pass a cadmium leaching test.

“It comes down to the following: Cadmium causes cancer. How much cadmium do you want your child eating?’’ said Michael R. Harbut, a doctor who has treated adult victims of cadmium poisoning and is director of the environmental cancer program at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. “In my view, the answer should be none.’’

Lawyers representing the Toy Industry Association of America and the Fashion Jewelry Trade Association said their products are safe and insist cadmium is not widely used.

Sheila A. Millar, a lawyer representing the Fashion Jewelry Trade Association, said jewelry makers often opt for zinc these days. “While FJTA can only speak to the experience of its members,’’ Millar wrote in an e-mail, “widespread substitution of cadmium is not something they see.’’