Guide for Parents: The Dangers of Heavy Metals in Children’s Jewelry


In March 2006, a tragic incident occurred which had a significant impact on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Jarnell Brown, a 4-year old boy from Minneapolis, Minn., swallowed a metal charm that was nearly pure lead. He sadly died four days later. Since 2004, our agency has conducted more than 50 recalls of more than 180 million units of metal jewelry because it contained a hazardous amount of lead. Since August 2009, it has been illegal to produce a piece of children’s metal jewelry with more than 300 parts per million of lead.

Now we hear about cadmium in jewelry. This is unacceptable. Just this week, I sent a clear message warning manufacturers against the use of heavy metals, “especially cadmium,” in a keynote speech that was delivered Tuesday at the APEC Toy Safety Initiative/Dialogue in Hong Kong.

Because of these recent developments, 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.

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.

We are moving swiftly to stop the replacement of lead with cadmium and other hazardous heavy metals in children’s products imported from China. We are also actively investigating the jewelry cited in the recent AP story and will inform parents and consumers quickly of any actions we take as a result of our efforts. Our investigation is squarely focused on ensuring the safety of children.

It is very difficult for a parent to determine if an item contains harmful levels of a metal in a specific item except by checking recalls listed on the CPSC Web site. Parents should know that swallowing, sucking on or chewing a metal charm or necklace could result in exposure to lead, cadmium or other heavy metals, which are known to be toxic at certain levels of exposure.

We are working to take decisive action at CPSC, using the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, a law aimed at keeping kids safe from toxic chemicals and metals.

The key message that I want parents to know is: We will act to protect young children, but take the metal jewelry away from children who will swallow, suck or chew on it while our work continues.

Update, Jan. 2012:  Parents and consumers should be aware that ASTM International, a respected standards setting organization, approved a new, voluntary standard for children’s jewelry in December 2011.  The standard establishes limits aimed at keeping cadmium and other toxic metals out of surface coatings and the inside of the children’s jewelry.  CPSC staff was part of this process and CPSC’s scientific research was used in creating the safety standard.

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