Friday, October 22, 2010

Kids’ jewelry shows high levels of toxic metal cadmium: Health Canada documents

Three in 10 pieces of children’s jewelry tested by Health
Canada for cadmium in the past year were made of as much as 93 per
cent of the highly toxic metal, internal government test results show.

The Health Canada records, released exclusively to Postmedia News
under access-to-information legislation, show 28 of 91 samples tested
since last fall contained cadmium levels greater than Health Canada’s
established limit of 107 mg/kg.

Cadmium is used as a substitute for lead in cheap imported jewelry.

None of the tested pieces were recalled for their elevated cadmium
levels because, unlike lead, which is banned in children’s jewelry in
Canada at levels exceeding 600 mg/kg or 0.06 per cent of the total
weight, there is no set limit for cadmium in kids’ jewelry.

Some of the items may have been recalled because they also contained
lead levels in excess of 0.06 per cent, but Health Canada was not
immediately available to comment on this.

It is unknown how many of the toxic pieces remain in stores and homes.

Cadmium, considered more harmful than lead if ingested through the
sucking or swallowing of a jewelry piece, is a known carcinogen. The
soft, whitish metal, which occurs naturally in the soil and is used in
nickel-cadmium batteries, can also wreck havoc on the kidneys.

Of the 28 pieces with elevated levels of cadmium, Health Canada found
that three of the pieces — moulded into cupcakes, ladybugs and foot
pendants — were made of almost pure cadmium, ranging from 84 to 93 per
cent cadmium.

Three other pieces were comprised of about a quarter cadmium,
including smiley face and ballerina pendants made with 23 and 28 per
cent cadmium.

The remaining pieces ranged from 0.011 per cent cadmium to 13 per cent cadmium.

The release of the test results come ahead of an announcement Tuesday
by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq about cadmium in children’s jewelry.

The summary released alongside the internal test results states that
the cadmium tests were carried out to guide Health Canada for possible
regulations to ban its use in children’s jewelry.

The U.S. Congress earlier this year proposed a bill that would
consider any piece of children’s jewelry containing cadmium a banned
hazardous substance. Legislators drafted the bill after independent
tests conducted by Jeffrey Weidenhamer, professor of chemistry at
Ashland University in Ohio, showed multiple pieces of children’s
jewelry sold in the past year at major retailers in the U.S. contained
cadmium, including some very high levels of the metal.

In an interview Sunday, Weidenhamer said Health Canada’s test results
don’t surprise him — given the restrictive standards for lead in
children’s jewelry in North America and the low cost of cadmium for
Chinese manufacturers.

“The price of cadmium had gone down because of declining demand for
nickel-cadmium batteries, which is where most of that was used, so the
price pressures on the products, when the price of cadmium went down,
it was an easy substitute because there were no regulations. So I
think it was something people in this side were not looking for. It
happened for economic reasons and now needs to be addressed,” said

Health Canada also conducted leaching tests on the samples that
contained cadmium levels greater than 107 mg/kg for migratable
cadmium. The department found three of the items leached cadmium at
levels above the safety threshold established by British toy safety
standards, set at 75 mg/kg.

Two of the three items were made of almost pure lead, but the third
one was a “K” charm made of 2.6 per cent cadmium.

Weidenhamer said his tests showed the same variability on the leaching test.

“It doesn’t surprise me to see levels as high as this, and in the
leaching tests that we’ve done we also get quite variable responses
and not directly tied to the level of cadmium,” said Weidenhamer, who
added the leaching test results should be analyzed with caution.

“The question is, if children are wearing the jewelry item, they do
get worn, the outer coating does get worn down, and in that case, are
these leachability levels going to be the same over time?”

In January, following a number of these tests, Health Canada issued a
general consumer-safety advisory telling consumers of the hazards of
cadmium in children’s jewelry without specifying brands or specific

Cadmium then made headlines in June, when McDonald’s announced the
voluntary recall of 1.4 million Shrek-themed promotional drinking
glasses in Canada and 12 million glasses in the United States.

Tests conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found
cadmium in the cartoon designs on the glasses at levels "slightly over
the commission’s highly protective level currently being developed."
The commission declined to say what the proposed level under
development is.


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