WASHINGTON -- A report by the Associated Press on high levels of cadmium found in toy jewelry has triggered unusually swift responses by federal agencies, lawmakers and retailers that could have wide-ranging impact on the bulk vending industry.
The initial report, in which AP tested 103 pieces of low-cost children's jewelry imported from China, found that 12 of the items had cadmium levels of 10%, one piece had 90% and the remainder contained more than 80%. All the items tested were purchased from such retail chains as Claire's, Walmarts and Dollar N More.
A soft bluish-white metal, cadmium is shiny, ductile and malleable; it melts at a relatively low temperature (around 600°F.), and is used in many low-melting-point alloys. It is inexpensive, and also is highly toxic. Cadmium has been linked to a host of serious illnesses, including cancer, kidney failure and loss of bone density. On the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of the 275 most hazardous substances, cadmium currently ranks in seventh place.
Presently, however, there are no U.S. regulations governing use of the material in toy fashion accessories. Use of the metal in toy jewelry, according to the experts, is a relatively new phenomenon. With the strict limitations now imposed on lead, Chinese manufacturers searched for economical substitutes. Cadmium, long used in small rechargeable batteries but now being displaced by newer formulations, seemed well suited as a practical replacement for lead in small-cast items.
Within 24 hours of the AP story, the Consumer Product Safety Commission launched an investigation into the use of the element in products intended for children, and several prominent legislators from both parties announced their intentions to propose measures limiting the use of cadmium in products intended for young consumers.
Wal-Mart Inc. reported that it has pulled many of the products identified by the AP tests from its shelves.
In a taped keynote speech before the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Toy Safety Institute Open Dialogue on Safety, held in Hong Kong, CPSC chairman Inez M. Tenenbaum said, "I believe that the heavy metals cited in F-963 [the F-963-08 Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety], especially cadmium, are going to attract attention in the United States from consumer advocates, the media, and parents. I would highly encourage all of you to ensure that toy manufacturers and children's product manufacturers in your country are not substituting cadmium, antimony or barium, in place of lead."
Writing on her blog, Tenenbaum had even stronger words for consumers. "I have a message for parents, grandparents and caregivers: Do not allow young children to be given or to play with cheap metal jewelry, especially when they are unsupervised," she wrote "We have proof that lead in children's jewelry is dangerous and was pervasive in the marketplace. To prevent young children from possibly being exposed to lead, cadmium or any other hazardous heavy metal, take the jewelry away."