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Study Finds More Than Half of Jewelry Tested Contains High Levels of Hazardous Chemicals

March 15, 2012 By Kyle Richardson

One in four pieces of costume jewelry contains more than 300 parts per million (ppm) of lead, a recent study found. The report, published Tuesday by nonprofit environmental organization The Ecology Center and, found that 57 percent of products tested had high levels of one or more hazardous chemicals.

The study analyzed 99 pieces of costume jewelry with an X-ray fluorescence device (XRF) to detect the presence and level of chemicals deemed hazardous by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Items were purchased from 14 different retailers in December 2011: Ming 99 Cent City, Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Big Lots, Claire's, Forever 21, Glitter, Walmart, H&M, Meijers, Kohl's, Justice, Icing and Hot Topic. Most products were purchased for less than $10.

One of the most commonly occurring chemicals found was lead, with 49 percent of all items containing a detectable level. Of that, 27 percent of all items contained lead levels higher than the 300 ppm permitted for use in children's products per the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

Several other carcinogenic chemicals were found in the items tested. Almost half of the jewelry (47 percent) contained cadmium, a metal that made headlines last year due to its connections with liver and kidney damage. Ten percent of the items contained over 100 ppm of cadmium, exceeding the CPSC's recommendations of 75 ppm.

Arsenic, an extremely poisonous element that is fatal in large doses, was found in excess of 100 ppm in 13 percent of the jewelry, well above the CPSC's limit of 25 ppm. Mercury was also found in 5 percent of the items, and almost all contained known allergens chromium (93 percent) or nickel (30 percent).

"There is no excuse for jewelry, especially children's jewelry, to be made with some of the most well-studied and dangerous substances on the planet," said Jeff Gearhart, research director at The Ecology Center and founder of "We urge manufacturers to start replacing these chemicals with non-toxic substances immediately."

Scott Wolfson, director of communications for the CPSC, told CBS that a majority of the items tested were for adults and were not intended for children, but explained that there is still cause for concern as children up to 9 may still put items in their mouth.



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