The 2008 law that imposed strict limits on lead in childrens’ products has had an unintended effect. According to the results of a recently published investigation by the Associated Press, some Chinese toy manufactures have complied with the new regulations by replacing that toxic metal with…an even more toxic metal, cadmium.
Cadmium is a naturally occurring metal that is used mostly in rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries. A known carcinogen, cadmium has been found to hinder brain development in young children. It does not have to be ingested to do damage — children who consistently suck or bite on items with a high cadmium content are exposed to low level doses.
For the investigation, the Associated Press tested 103 pieces of cheap childrens’ jewelry purchased in New York, Ohio, Texas and California. Of those items, 12% were found to have at least 10% cadmium with some measuring as high as 91%. In leach testing, some items released so much cadmium that if they were manufacturing waste instead of children’s jewelry, they they would have to be specially handled and disposed of under U.S. environmental law.
Offending items were found at such major retailers as Walmart and Claire’s, who both reacted to the findings by immediately pulling the items from stores.
Technically, the toy makers who are using cadmium in children’s jewelry aren’t breaking any rules. Their products meet current safety standards because those standards address the cadmium in painted toys but not specifically in jewelry. That said, the fact that cadmium is a health hazard is not news. It has long been known that even in low concentrations, cadmium is toxic. So why would toy manufacturers, who have already been taken to task for using lead in childrens’ products, replace it with cadmium? Because it is cheap, that’s why. And when the U.S. government gets around to regulating cadmium content in childrens’ jewelry, what cheap and toxic material will toy manufacturers turn to next?
Photo: By Jeff Weidenhamer, AP