Canada is cracking down on the amount of cadmium that can be found in children's jewelry.

A proposed guideline setting a limit for the first time was announced Monday by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, and it comes less than a year after her department asked manufacturers to voluntarily stop producing, importing and selling children's jewelry made with the metal.

Cadmium is often used as a substitute for lead in cheap children's jewelry. Health Canada says there is no known risk to wearing the products, but they can be dangerous if licked or sucked on repeatedly, or if swallowed.

The government has regulations on the amount of lead that can be used in products, but there were no limits, in the form of guidelines or regulations, on cadmium.

"Our goal is to reduce the level of cadmium in children's jewelry to a level that is protective of health, so that parents and child care providers can feel confident about the jewelry products that their children wear," Aglukkaq said when she made the announcement at a daycare in Ottawa.

When Aglukkaq made her appeal to industry last October, she said the government might introduce mandatory limits if companies did not comply with the request.

Health Canada isn't moving yet to bring in regulations, but the guideline it is proposing suggests a total cadmium concentration in children’s jewelry of 130 parts per million, or 0.013 per cent of its weight.

Regulation still an option 

Aglukkaq said regulations take a long time to develop and that Monday's announcement is part of laying the groundwork for them.

"Everything that we are doing right now is work that is required for regulations and can be used to develop regulations," she said. "Going through the regulatory process is a much slower process than establishing the guidelines, so we're moving as quickly as we can and regulation is always an option," she said.

Aglukkaq said the proposed guideline makes the government's expectations of industry clear and that Health Canada will monitor the marketplace and "take appropriate action" when levels of cadmium in excess of the guideline are found in children’s jewelry.

The federal government now has more power to ensure manufacturers follow regulations and guidelines since passing the Consumer Product Safety Act. If a product is found to exceed the cadmium guideline, Health Canada may order a risk assessment of the specific item. If it's deemed to pose an "unreasonable hazard" it could order a recall or take other actions.

Industry stakeholders have until Oct. 10 to provide comments on the proposal and then Health Canada will confirm the guideline.

Aglukkaq said the federal government will be doing another round of product testing this fall to see whether industry has complied with the government's advisory that it should stop selling products with cadmium.

She said Health Canada believes manufacturers are in compliance, but if they aren't, the powers afforded to the government through the Consumer Product Safety Act will be used.