Cadmium in kids jewelry eliminated in California

A major company in California has agreed to effectively eliminate the toxic metal cadmium from children's jewellry it sells.

Companies will face fines

Cadmium is a soft, whitish metal that if ingested over time can damage the kidneys and bones. (Phil Long/Associated Press)

In the first settlement of its kind, national jewelry seller Tween Brands Inc. has agreed to effectively eliminate the toxic metal cadmium from the bracelets, necklaces and other items it sells.

The agreement covers jewelry sold to kids, teens and adults in California, but given the size of the state's market, it becomes company policy nationally.

The fact that adult jewelry is included represents an expansion of protection; since concerns about high levels of cadmium in jewelry surfaced over the past year, the focus has been on preteen girls.

Last July, Tween recalled from public circulation about 137,000 pieces of jewelry that had been made in China due to unspecified high levels of cadmium.

While test results have not been publicly released, some of the five other cadmium jewelry recalls orchestrated last year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission involved pieces that were more than 90 per cent cadmium, according to laboratory testing conducted for The Associated Press.

A large enough single dose of cadmium can kill. Cadmium also causes cancer and some research suggests it can stunt the development of young brains.

Under the agreement, starting in August, Tween faces fines if it sells jewelry that is more than 0.03 per cent cadmium — a background level that doesn't suggest the cadmium was intentionally added. A state judge still needs to approve the settlement, but that is almost never an issue in these cases.

The case against Tween was brought by the California-based Center for Environmental Health, a group that has long used the state's Proposition 65 to force companies to reduce levels of harmful materials in consumer products.

The centre said it hoped that the settlement, filed with California's attorney general Friday, would serve as a model for the 39 other retailers or jewelry suppliers it has filed cadmium actions against over the past year.

The centre's lawyer is still negotiating with a group of other companies.   

"Tween is really being a leader and doing the right thing," said Caroline Cox, the group's research director.

Last year, California passed a law that limited jewelry to 0.03 per cent cadmium content, but when it goes into effect next year the levels only apply to jewelry for kids six and under.

That law, as well as those three other states, was enacted after an AP investigation which revealed that some Chinese jewelry manufacturers were substituting cadmium for lead, the use of which Congress clamped down on in 2008 following a string of imported product safety scandals.

Tween — which in the settlement denied any wrongdoing but will pay the state, the center, and its lawyers a total of $45,000 US — issued a short written statement in response to questions posed by AP: "As a company, we are committed to working to ensure the well-being of our customers, and continue to work to ensure all of our products meet or exceed safety standards."

Meanwhile, the trade group representing the jewelry industry said Monday it is close to finalizing a new, voluntary standard for cadmium limits in jewelry intended for kids 12 and under.