Washington—The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said Tuesday that jewelry manufacturers, consumer groups and other affiliated groups should develop standards to govern safe levels of cadmium used in toys and children’s jewelry.
While the long-awaited guidance statement from the CPSC clearly rejected calls from some environmental and consumer advocacy groups which had urged a ban on cadmium in “toy jewelry,” the agency proposed testing methods that are more stringent than those proposed by jewelry manufacturers.
Concerns about the presence of cadmium, a naturally occurring heavy metal used nearly all types of jewelry manufacturing, arose earlier this year when an Associated Press (AP) report found high levels of cadmium in children’s jewelry made in China. Since then the CPSC has issued six voluntary recalls on children’s products, including kid’s jewelry that were found to have high levels of cadmium. The AP asserted that jewelry manufacturers, particularly in China, were substituting cadmium for lead, another toxic heavy metal which the federal government imposed limits on.
Feds Reject Ban on Cadmium
Industry associations, such as Fashion Jewelry & Accessories Trade Association (FJATA), Jewelers of America (JA), the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) and other jewelry and hardware manufacturers argued that cadmium isn’t being widely substituted for lead and that putting limits on cadmium would unfairly penalize manufacturers who could follow internationally accepted limits already in practice in the European Union. Moreover, there have been no reports of any children—or adults—getting cadmium poisoning from jewelry. Although exposure to high levels of cadmium may be toxic particularly in children, most cadmium poisoning occurred through exposure to paint, batteries or cadmium-electroplated eating utensils.
Instead, FJATA, JA, MJSA and other manufacturers and retailers proposed adopting a new Children’s Jewelry Safety Standard, which would address the use of all heavy metals including cadmium and other potential hazards in children’s jewelry. This standard development process is administered by ASTM International, one of the largest voluntary development organizations in the world.
ASTM Standard EN-71, which the European Union has adopted, is accepted as a test to evaluate toys, one that industry associations have urged the CPSC to adopt for children’s jewelry sold in the United States. In addition, industry associations also urged limits be measured with regard to how much cadmium might “migrate”—or what would be absorbed into the body—if the jewelry were ingested.
In their report to the CPSC, industry associations stated there is “no indication that children are experiencing health risks from wearing or handling jewelry at levels of cadmium traditionally present. As with toys, the potential risk of exposure to cadmium in children’s jewelry is also being addressed through a new ASTM standard because of the industry’s strong commitment to and desire for a national safety standard for children’s jewelry.” Some retailers, including Walmart and Target, already had required their vendors to prove their kid’s jewelry products passed the test used by the EU.
CPSC Suggests Stricter Migration Tests
Even though the CPSC agreed that the industry could set its own guidelines under the ASTM process including the migration approach, the agency recommended a more rigorous testing for products that could be swallowed. Under the E.U. regulations which U.S. manufacturers support, the migration test lasts for two hours. The CPSC’s guidance proposed the test last for 24 hours. CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum defended the stricter guidelines, saying “because of our experience with lead in jewelry, our staff strongly believes that a 24-hour extraction test is needed, rather than a two-hour test” that is standard in Europe.
Nonetheless, the CPSC decision was welcomed by industry associations. “The CPSC has spent many months gathering data on cadmium and FJATA will need time to review the agency’s information,” said Brent Cleaveland, FJATA’s executive director on Tuesday. “However, we are pleased that the CPSC is relying on migration approach to measure cadmium exposure. Migration-based standards—consistent with the risk-based methods of evaluating safety that are widely accepted in the scientific community—are required under the Federal Hazardous Substance Act and supported by FJATA.”
Added Cleaveland: “As we have stated in the past, we have technical concerns regarding the validity and practicality of lengthy test times. We welcome the chance to continue our productive dialogue with the CPSC to expeditiously finalize a national, science-based, peer reviewed standard for children’s jewelry that reflects our collective interest in ensuring the safety of our products.”
Earlier this year Tenenbaum warned regulators and manufacturers in Asia against the use of heavy metals in children’s products. Her warning came as the agency began investigating cadmium’s use as a substitute for lead in certain children’s products imported from China.
But after reviewing evidence from the industry, Tenenbaum said cadmium hasn’t been used as widely as lead once was. Indeed, in its brief to the agency, the three industry associations pointed out “very little cadmium migrates from the plated samples, even under unrealistic worst-case 24 hour test conditions using constant agitation.”
Congress Unlikely to Act
Another reason industry associations had urged adopting internationally accepted standards was to avoid a patchwork of standards set by several states including California, Illinois and Connecticut. A recently passed California law, for example, would limit cadmium based on how much total cadmium content the children’s product contains—not how much a child might be exposed if it were ingested.
According to the AP, “14 of the 103 items tested for AP as part of its original investigation in January would have failed the California limit of no more than 0.03% cadmium. But several of those 14 would have passed the CPSC’s proposed test.” Additionally, some of the voluntary recalls, including McDonald’s children drinking glasses, wouldn’t have been necessary under the proposed guidelines.
Several states put proposed legislation limiting cadmium content on hold due to the CPSC’s pending decision. Federal legislation, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last summer, also had been pending as the CPSC undertook its study. With any action unlikely this year, any future federal legislation would have to be taken up by a newly elected Congress next year—an unlikely scenario given the current political forecast predicting Republican gains.
Although the CPSC has basically advised that U.S. jewelry and hardware manufacturers police themselves, the agency would still be free to push for voluntary recalls.