Last year in this space we covered news of multiple recalls of children’s jewelry and novelty items that contained the heavy metal cadmium, a known carcinogen. Now it seems that the jewelry industry along with the standards organization, ASTM International, are advocating that states overturn existing laws limiting cadmium in favor of new voluntary guidelines that they helped create.
Currently there is no single national standard for cadmium limits in jewelry, only a patchwork of individual state laws that are inconsistent and a “moving target” for manufacturers and importers as additional states pass new cadmium laws.
"Our whole mission in this is to have standards that are not floating in quicksand," said Brent Cleaveland, head of the ASTM subcommittee that wrote the rules and executive director of the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association. He described the limits he oversaw as "way more conservative than necessary" to protect kids' health.
While the voluntary rules have the support of federal regulators and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, states that passed much stricter limits over the past year would have to backtrack and allow higher levels of the metal. There are currently cadmium laws in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota. Legislation is pending in other states, including Massachusetts, New York and Florida.
Under the ASTM guidelines, children's jewelry--defined as "primarily intended" for kids 12 and under--would first be lab tested to see whether it contains more than 0.03 percent cadmium. Items that fail the "total content" test could be scrapped or sent for further analysis. For smaller pieces, a second test gauges how much cadmium dissolves in stomach acid 24 hours after the jewelry is swallowed; for larger pieces, another test measures how much cadmium is released under conditions that simulate licking.
For states such as Connecticut and Maryland that limit total cadmium content to .0075 percent cadmium, the voluntary guidelines fall short. "Maryland ought to set whatever standard we feel is correct," said Delegate James Hubbard, who sponsored that state’s legislation. "We made a judgment call based on what we felt was in the best interest of the people we represent."
Expect to see more about this controversy in the months to come as the jewelry industry, regulators, and consumer and environmental groups struggle with this important public health issue.
Cadmium Health Effects
Cadmium poisoning is associated with cancer (lung and prostate) and chronic kidney disease. Cadmium also releases calcium from bone within hours of exposure which might lead to bone disease (osteomalacia and osteoporosis). Other health effects include anemia, teeth discoloration and loss of smell (anosmia).