OTTAWA - Canada's Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, has announced new regulations limiting lead content in children's jewelry imported into or advertised or sold in Canada. The new rules bring Canada's policy into line with that set by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission earlier this year (see VT, March).
The new U.S. lead level standards, developed by CPSC's Office of Compliance, combined with the testing procedures outlined in an Interim Enforcement Policy, establish acceptable benchmark levels and codify standards for testing by product distributors. The testing policy is designed to ensure that tests conducted by independent labs yield results that can be duplicated by CPSC. Canada's recent action establishes a consistent policy in both nations.
"When buying children's costume jewelry, I would check with the retailer before buying it," said Health Canada spokesman Paul Duchesne. "If the retailer cannot provide assurance that the item is lead-free, don't buy it."
Some distributors of costume jewelry produced in Canada complied with warnings sent by Health Canada in 1999. But a retail survey of children's costume jewelry in May and June 2000 found that some jewelry still contained high levels of lead, which prompted the new regulations.
The maximum permitted limits for children's jewelry now are are 600 mg/kg total lead and 90 mg/kg "migratable" lead (lead that can dissolve out of an object into a surrounding solvent such as saliva). Children's jewelry is defined as items intended to attract and appeal to a child under the age of 15.
Much of the costume jewelry on the Canadian market contains lead, and legislature requiring that children's jewelry be made without any lead at all would price most products out of the market. Such a prohibition would result in less choice for the consumer, since many manufacturers could not afford to produce lead-free jewelry for the relatively small Canadian market.
Lead is a soft, inexpensive and easily worked metal that has been used for millennia to make jewelry and other decorative items. But it has been found to be toxic, especially to children and even at low levels, because it accumulates in the body. Elevated lead levels can interfere with intellectual development and behavior of children. Lead also has a sweet taste that can make it more attractive to children who put jewelry in their mouths.
Health Canada became aware of the problem in 1998, when a five-year-old developed elevated blood lead levels after sucking on a pendant made of pure lead covered with a decorative coating. Similar incidents were reported in the United States. After an Oregon child developed lead poisoning after swallowing a pendant bought in a vending machine, the U.S. and Canada recalled the item.