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

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.”

Kyle A. Richardson is the editorial director of Promo Marketing. He joined the company in 2006 brings more than a decade of publishing, marketing and media experience to the magazine. If you see him, buy him a drink.

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  • Dan

    As a manufacturer, I believe there is very little excuse for these major retailers not to control more carefully what is and is not in their products. It appears to be a matter of money. If they were concerned about this, they would test their products and insist their manufacturers do the same. If they are not, as appears to be the case, then it is because they do not want to spend the time and money to find out what’s in their products, and they simply turn a blind eye and purchase the lowest priced items so they can make their margins in a competitive market sector. If retailers and consumers aren’t concerned enough to self manage this area, then unfortunately government regulators need to step in and enforce the rules. A few stiff penalties and national negative press might do the trick.

  • Dan

    Fortunately our promotional products industry manufacturers appears to be doing a much better job of self policing in the area of dangerous chemicals in children’s products.