Feds Fail to Enforce Restrictions on Cadmium in Children's Jewelry
Two years after it was revealed that some imported children's jewelry contained the toxic metal cadmium, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has failed to implement federal restrictions on the material.
An Associated Press investigation revealed this week that the CPSC has not only failed to keep cadmium-based costume jewelry out of the hands of children, but it has also neglected to implement recalls on some of these products once the cadmium content was revealed.
"Despite touting its work as a model of proactive regulation, the agency tasked with protecting Americans from dangerous everyday products often has been reactive—or inactive," the AP reported.
The AP teamed with two independent consumer groups for the investigation, where representatives purchased cadmium-based jewelry in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ohio and New York. Earlier this year, a separate investigation by The Ecology Center found that half of children's products tested contained one or more hazardous chemicals, with 47 percent containing some levels of cadmium.
The CPSC has admitted to finding products on store shelves that were hazardous by commission guidelines, but did not recall or warn the public about these items afterward, the AP found. "Agency staffers have consistently sided with firms that argued their high-cadmium items shouldn't be recalled—not because they were safe in the hands of kids, but because they were deemed not to meet the legal definition of a 'children's product,'" the article reported.
Twenty of 64 items tested contained at least 5 percent cadmium, with one item consisting of 85 percent cadmium. The CPSC was made aware of these items, but stated that they were not "primarily intended" for children, and therefore would not be recalled. There are no regulations on the amount of cadmium used in products for adults.
The issues surrounding "children's products" have been at the heart of many issues for the CPSC ever since it passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in 2008. The requirements for children's products are strictly different from general use products, but the definitions of each are more variable, creating confusion. Rick Brenner, CEO of Prime Line, used a water bottle to illustrate the point in a blog post earlier this year.
"If the name of [a] team is imprinted in a plain type style, the bottle is considered a general use item—not a children's product—because CPSC says it appeals to all ages including the 7-year-old Little Leaguers," he said. "Most importantly, general use items don't have to comply with children's product standards. But the identical water bottle decorated with a Winnie the Pooh-type character—something that would only appeal to the young children—is considered a children's product and has to comply with the CPSIA standards."
Cadmium made headlines two years ago when an AP investigation found that many Chinese manufacturers were using it in place of lead, which had been banned in children's products. The soft, malleable metal can cause serious health issues over time, including kidney failure and cancer, and is also toxic when ingested. According to the CPSC, several thousand children are treated for swallowing jewelry every year.
Earlier this year, CPSC commissioner Inez Tenenbaum endorsed a voluntary children's jewelry safety standard proposed by the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association and the Toy Industry Association. This is in keeping with the commission's policy of encouraging industries to police themselves. In the absense of federal regulations, six states have elected to impose limits on cadmium in jewelry, and some retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target have implemented internal safety testing, but these precautions are far from universal protections.
Since many of the rules guiding cadmium are voluntary, reporting on the products remains inconsistent and does not meet the requirements associated with official CPSC recalls. Wal-Mart voluntarily pulled some children's jewelry that failed internal tests in 2010, but did not report which items they were or contact affected customers. Official recalls conducted with the CPSC require detailed information on items and options for refund or resolution.
In its report, the AP acknowledges the difficulties in regulating cadmium and other harmful materials due to the double standard of what is and is not considered a children's product. Chemical content restrictions on children's products are much higher than on items made for adults, but because so much of the ruling hinges on "intention," it opens up a gray area. One incident the AP reported involved a charm bracelet at Wal-Mart, with charms that were 90 percent cadmium. A representative from Wal-Mart insisted that "there just isn't anything about the product itself or its packaging to indicate that it was designed or intended primarily for use by children."
The item, which was packaged with the words "For ages 3 and over" on the back, was not recalled.