Cadmium in Children’s Jewelry and Other Toys Causes Concern

Dangerous toys aimed at children are such a problem that every year a nonprofit safety advocacy group puts out a report called Trouble in Toyland. The safety group, U.S. PIRG, typically times the release of the report to the Christmas shopping season. But the problems are there all year round - sometimes in seemingly unlikely places, such as inexpensive jewelry.

After the 2008 ban on lead in children's products, some manufacturers have replaced lead with more dangerous heavy metal cadmium in products such as, costume jewelry, children's toys and glassware. Cadmium is a soft, bluish-white, natural metal that has been used in batteries and coatings on consumer products.

Is cadmium dangerous to your health?

Cadmium is a known carcinogenic substance and various studies have concluded that it is toxic. Long term contact can cause kidney and bone damage. Children are at increased risks because they put objects in their mouths and oral exposure can lead to developmental problems in small children.

According to an article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, young children who mouth or swallow jewelry containing cadmium can be exposed to 100 times the recommended maximum exposure limit. Damaged pieces of jewelry were also found to leach up to 30 times more cadmium than undamaged pieces. The researchers concluded that the potential for personal injury is greater the longer an item stays in a child's stomach.

Product Recalls

Last year, the Associated Press (AP) investigated the amount of cadmium being used in the production of inexpensive jewelry. The AP tested over 100 items bought from stores in Texas, New York, Ohio and California. Several of the items contained from 80 to 90 percent cadmium. The highest cadmium content was found in charm bracelets sold and marketed to young girls. The results of the investigation prompted several product recalls:

  • WalMart and Claire's, an international jewelry and accessories chain store, issued recalls for the jewelry shown to have toxic amounts of cadmium.
  • Cadmium is also used in paint. In June 2010, McDonald's recalled Shrek drinking glasses after the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found high levels of cadmium in the paint used on the glasses.

Attempted Legislative Action

No federal laws ban the use of cadmium in consumer products, including trinkets and jewelry that may be marketing toward children. Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) did propose federal legislation last year to define cadmium as a hazardous substance and ban the use of cadmium in children's jewelry sold in the United States. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has also been investigating the use of cadmium in children's metal jewelry. Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the CPSC, has warned Asian manufacturers to stop using cadmium after receiving complaints about the use of the toxic metal in children's jewelry.

Although legislation has stalled at the federal level, Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland (no more than .0075%) and California (no more than .03% starting in 2012), have passed laws to ban cadmium in children's jewelry. New Jersey, New York, Maine, Hawaii, South Dakota, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Florida and an ever growing list of states are considering legislation to limit the amount of cadmium used in children's jewelry. The main focus of the state legislators has been items marketed to children, because children are especially vulnerable to cadmium poisoning.

Products Liability Law

A defective product is unfit for its intended use and may be dangerous or harmful for normal use due to a design, assembly or manufacturing defect. A defective product such a child's toy may pose a choking hazard for the small child. Another common example of a defective product is an electric blanket that might malfunction and catch on fire. Products liability holds the seller and distributor of the product accountable for the cost of any injuries or damages caused by the defective product.

How does this law apply to cadmium in jewelry? For one thing, the threat of legal action can prompt retailers to take action to remove the products. On September 9 2011, the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health and 26 major retailers, including Target Corp, Gap, Inc, Banana Republic and Claire's reached an agreement. The retailers agreed to all but eliminate cadmium in children's and also adult jewelry and accessories that they sell.

The retailers wanted to focus on how much cadmium might rub off of an item when in normal use. However, the parties ultimately agreed on a test that measures the amount of cadmium contained in the item. This is a more health conscious approach, because even small amounts of cadmium can cause illness.

Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) brought a lawsuit in California under Proposition 65, a California law intended to keep potentially hazardous materials and products away from the public. The lawsuit prompted retailers to discuss the problem.

If you or a family member has been injured by a defective product an experienced personal injury attorney can explain your rights and discuss remedies that are available. When a product is defective, such as jewelry that contains cadmium or an electric blanket that might malfunction and catch on fire, you don't need to depend on the goodwill of the retailer or manufacturer. Sometimes a lawsuit is required to resolve the issues and obtain compensation for personal injuries.