Consumer Union Urges Limits on Cadmium Levels in All Children’s Products

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Yonkers, NY—Following Consumer Reports’(CR) tests that found “worrisome levels of heavy metals” in a rhinestone hair barrette, a cell phone charm and a child’s vinyl raincoat, Consumer Union urged the Consumer Products Safety Council (CPSC) to develop a regulation for cadmium limits for all children’s products.

The nonprofit Consumer Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, said Tuesday that “manufacturers, distributors, and retailers should thoroughly test for all heavy-metal concentrations before bringing products to market.”

The Union issued the appeal following the release of CR’s October issues which features a study of 30 children’s and household products that were tested for heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium and mercury.

The CR report found a metal and rhinestone hair barrette with a high level of total cadmium, a cell-phone charm with lead levels so high it would be illegal if it were considered a children’s product, and samples of a popular children’s vinyl raincoat that were purchased in late 2009 and had parts that exceeded legal lead limits for children’s products. The raincoat was reformulated and labeled “100 % lead free” and CR’s tests of the newer version showed it contained only low or trace amounts of lead.

Levels of cadmium in products are of particular concern to the Union. “We’re concerned it’s going to start showing up in a lot of other products, such as children’s jewelry or hair barrettes or other products,” said Don Mays, CR senior director of product safety and technical policy. “The problem here is that young children in particular have a tendency to put jewelry in their mouths, a necklace, a little pendant, they have a tendency to suck on it.”

Cadmium in children’s jewelry became an issue earlier this year when the Associated Press reported finding high levels of cadmium in some children’s jewelry. Since January, the CPSC has issued six voluntary recalls for children’s products, including jewelry that contained high cadmium levels.

CPSC Explores Cadmium Regulation in Jewelry

Cadmium, a naturally occurring metal, is commonly used in trace amounts in jewelry and handbag hardware manufacturing.  No injuries or cadmium poisoning have been reported with any product that has been recalled or sold and there are no federal standards for regulating cadmium in jewelry. The CPSC applies a legal guideline that simply allows action against “hazardous levels” without setting specific levels. However, the CPSC is currently working with trade and consumer groups on establishing how to test and restrict cadmium in “toy metal jewelry.” Meanwhile, some states have initiated regulations on cadmium use and a federal legislation also is pending.

“The limits on lead are well defined for children’s products, but lead and cadmium also should be regulated in products that can result in exposure via direct ingestion, such as cell-phone charms or garden hoses from which consumers might drink,” the CR report stated.

CR said samples of a Revlon Couture rhinestone hair barrette tested positive for high levels of total cadmium though the potential for significant cadmium exposure through normal use is low. “The barrette is not marketed to children, but it could interest and be accessible to them,” CR stated.

Four years after CR began routinely checking consumer products for heavy metals, and two years after sweeping rules sought to limit lead in children’s products, CR examined a variety of products that seemed likely to contain heavy metals, based on past recalls and the magazine’s previous tests. Of the more than 30 products CR tested using an initial screening method called X-Ray fluorescence (XRF), 14 showed relatively high levels. They were sent for further testing to an outside lab to determine total amounts of lead, cadmium, and mercury.

The magazine also said that lead levels in a green clover-shaped cell-phone charm sold at Claire’s Stores “caused the greatest concern.” The tested charm contained 100,000 parts per million (ppm) of total lead, an amount that would be illegal if it were considered a product for children under age 13. “Though the charm is not marketed specifically to children 12 and under, it could appeal to that age group or it could be accessible to them if a parent or older child has one,” CR said.

Standards for lead are expected to tighten further in August 2011, when limits for total lead in children’s products drop to 100 ppm, if the Consumer Product Safety Commission determines it is technologically feasible to meet that more stringent standard.

“There is evidence that manufacturers and retailers are becoming more vigilant,” said Mays. “But there are still some unsafe products in the market.”

The Center for Environmental Health, Empire State Consumer Project, Rochesterians Against the Misuse of Pesticide, and Sierra Club have apparently asked CPSC to prohibit cadmium in all toy jewelry under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, as well as declare toy jewelry containing trace amount of cadmium “a banned hazardous substance.”

Industry associations, such as the Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America (MJSA) and The Fashion Jewelry Trade and Accessories Association (FJATA) have joined in participating in an ASTM voluntary group to produce a new Children’s Jewelry Safety Standard, which will 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.

California May Enact Cadmium Ban

On the state level, California may soon join Connecticut, Minnesota, and Illinois among the states that have enacted bans on cadmium in children’s jewelry. California lawmakers passed legislation in late August to ban the use of cadmium in children’s jewelry. If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the bill, California law would prohibit the manufacturing, shipping, and sale of children’s jewelry or any of the jewelry’s components containing more than 0.03 percent (300 ppm) of cadmium as determined by a total weight test. The law would take effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Illinois passed a law in late July regulating the use of cadmium in children’s products. It mandated a limit of 75 parts per million (ppm) as determined by solubility testing for heavy metals as defined in the ASTM International Safety Specification on Toy Safety, ASTM Standard F-963. The Illinois law is effective July 1, 2011. Both Connecticut and Minnesota passed cadmium laws in May; Connecticut set a level of 75 parts per million total weight content, while Minnesota mandated 75 ppm as determined by ASTM Standard F-963 solubility testing. (California and Minnesota define “children’s products” as being intended for those age 6 and under; Illinois and Connecticut set the age limit at 12 and under.)

On the federal level, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) has introduced a third bill addressing toxic metals in children’s products, the Toxic Metals Protection Act (H.R. 5920). The act sets limits on four toxic heavy metals (antimony, barium, cadmium and chromium) for the surface area of products intended for use by children 12 years of age or younger. It appears to follow the solubility testing method defined in the ASTM International Safety Specification on Toy Safety, but leaves it to CPSC to finalize a standard.

Though the CPSC has not guaranteed that it will adopt the new standard, past history suggests that it often does incorporate relevant ASTM standards into its regulations, MJSA reported.

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