The CPSIA law set a new, stringent standard for lead in children's products — no more than 0.03 percent of the total content. The statute has led manufacturers to drastically reduce lead in toys and jewelry. But according to a recent Associated Press investigation, some Chinese manufacturers have been substituting the more dangerous heavy metal cadmium in sparkling charm bracelets and shiny pendants being sold throughout the United States.
The cadmium content of jewelry tested in the AP investigation, all purchased at national and regional chains or franchises, tested at 89 percent, 86 percent and 84 percent cadmium by weight with the most contaminated piece containing 91 percent cadmium per weight. In all, 12 percent of the pieces of jewelry tested by the AP contained at least 10 percent cadmium.
Cadmium is a known carcinogen. Like lead, it can hinder brain development in the very young, according to recent research. Children don't have to swallow an item to be exposed — they can get persistent, low-level doses by regularly sucking or biting jewelry with a high cadmium content.
They worst part is that there doesn't appear to be any one specific regulation against using cadmium as a lead substitute in children's products. Under CPSIA, if the products were painted toys, they would face a recall. If they were industrial garbage, they could qualify as hazardous waste. But since there are no cadmium restrictions on jewelry, such items are sold legally. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has never recalled an item for cadmium content, despite a number of complaints.
So once again it's buyer beware. The latest line of children's toys and products may claim to be "lead-free," but that doesn't mean they are any safer for our children.