Another chain pulls cadmium-tainted kids’ jewelry
LOS ANGELES (AP) – A second international chain store said it is pulling from shelves jewelry that lab tests show contained high levels of the heavy metal cadmium, and Chinese regulators said they will investigate dangerous levels of the toxin in children’s jewelry being exported to the United States. Also, a U.S. senator called for hearings.
The jewelry and accessories store Claire’s, with nearly 3,000 locations in North America and Europe, on Tuesday joined Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in saying it would stop selling any item cited in an Associated Press investigation of the presence of cadmium in cheap bracelets and charms.
Charms on a “Best Friends” bracelet sold at Claire’s contained 89 and 91 percent cadmium, according to testing organized by AP, and shed alarming amounts in a procedure that examined how much cadmium children might be exposed to.
“While we have no reason to believe that this product is unsafe, out of an abundance of caution, we are taking this action because we take our responsibility to our customers very seriously,” Claire’s said in a statement. Also, customers who return the item will be offered store credit.
Meanwhile, an official with China’s product safety agency said it would examine the findings on cadmium contamination.
“We just heard about this, and we will investigate,” Wang Xin, a director general for the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said Tuesday at a toy safety conference in Hong Kong.
Though Wang does not have the authority to order a full-bore inquiry, his comments were the government’s first on the matter and show China’s nervousness about potential troubles in the U.S., the biggest Chinese export market.
Also on Tuesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who sits on the Commerce Committee, urged a hearing on cadmium in imported children’s jewelry. “There’s no excuse – toxic jewelry and toys need to be off our shores and out of our stores,” said Klobuchar, who helped engineer stricter legislation on lead in children’s products that became law in 2008.
On Monday, Wal-Mart pulled products as politicians in the United States promised new legislation and inquiries. The attorney general of Connecticut promised to investigate suspect costume jewelry. A New York state legislator called for a ban on the sale of children’s jewelry with cadmium in the state.
Lab tests conducted for the AP on 103 pieces of low-priced children’s jewelry on sale in the U.S. found 12 items with raised levels of cadmium, which can hinder brain development in young children, according to recent research, and is known to cause cancer.
Twelve items had cadmium levels of at least 10 percent by weight. One piece had a startling 91 percent, and others contained more than 80 percent. The government has no restrictions on cadmium in jewelry.
The findings of cadmium contamination come after recalls of products made in China were down significantly in 2009. The decrease followed a string of product quality scandals in 2007 that caused Congress in 2008 to ban toys and other children’s products that contain lead – another dangerous and once commonly used material. Cadmium is even more harmful.
A soft, whitish metal that occurs naturally in soil, cadmium is perhaps best known as half of rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, but also is used in pigments, electroplating and plastic. Low-cost jewelry makers find cadmium attractive because it is cheap and easy to work with.
Melissa Hill, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., called the AP findings “troubling.” She said the company, which is the world’s largest retailer, had a special responsibility “to take swift action, and we are doing so.”
In taped remarks delivered at the toy safety conference in Hong Kong, the chairwoman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urged other countries to ensure that manufacturers do not substitute cadmium, antimony or barium in place of lead in children’s products.
“All of us should be committed to keeping hazardous or toxic levels of heavy metals out of … toys and children’s products,” Inez Tenenbaum said in a transcript of the remarks.
Tenenbaum singled out cadmium for special vigilance and said: “Voluntary efforts will only take us so far.”
The commission immediately said it was opening an investigation into the AP’s findings, promising to “take action as quickly as possible to protect the safety of children.”
Children can be exposed by sucking or biting such jewelry. But without direct exposure, most people do not experience its worst effects: cancer, kidneys that leak vital protein and bones that spontaneously snap.
The worrisome results came in tests of bracelet charms sold at Walmart stores, Claire’s and at a Dollar N More store. High amounts of cadmium also were detected in “The Princess and The Frog” movie-themed pendants.
U.S.-based trade groups, as well as distributors and sellers of the jewelry containing cadmium, said their products meet safety standards. Cadmium is regulated in painted toys but not in jewelry.
A cadmium specialist with the Beijing office of Asian Metal Ltd., a market research and consultancy firm, said products with cadmium are normally directed to the Chinese domestic market.
A 2008 law imposed limits on lead in children’s products and sent factories rushing for substitutes. About the same time, cadmium prices dropped, in part because nickel-cadmium batteries are swiftly being replaced with newer designs.
Marquez reported from Hong Kong. Associated Press writers Jeff Donn in Boston, Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., and Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.
The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate(at)ap.org.