Major Retailers Agree to Eliminate Lead Risks from Children’s Jewelry

Seventy-One Companies Join
Precedent-Setting Agreement to Protect Children’s Health

Oakland, CA — The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced today that major retailers of children’s jewelry, including Target, Kmart, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Claires, Mervyns, Sears, Toys R Us, Disney and dozens of other companies have agreed to eliminate lead exposure risks from jewelry marketed to children and adults. The legal settlement calls for the companies to take swift action to end sales of lead-containing jewelry in California by reformulating their products. The landmark agreement with seventy-one companies creates the first legally binding standards for lead in jewelry in the nation.

CEH initiated legal action against the jewelry companies in late 2003 and, with the California Attorney General, sued the companies in June 2004. In the past few years, there have been numerous cases of children suffering from serious lead poisoning due to jewelry exposures, prompting health warnings and national jewelry recalls. While seventy-one of the companies named in the lawsuits signed the settlement that was filed in Alameda County Superior Court today, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, and four other companies have not agreed to reformulate the jewelry they sell.

“We applaud the companies who joined this settlement for taking a hard look at this problem and agreeing to get the lead out of children’s jewelry,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “We are hopeful that Wal-Mart and the other companies will soon join these industry leaders in protecting children from unnecessary lead risks.” In addition to Wal-Mart, Jordache, Cornerstone Apparel (Papaya stores), the Gerson Company, and Royal Items have not joined the settlement.

While today’s settlement is legally binding only in California, CEH expects that most if not all the companies will act to protect children nationally from lead jewelry risks. “California is a major market, and it will likely be impractical for companies to have one line of jewelry for the state and another for the rest of the country,” said Green. “Nonetheless, we will continue to monitor the issue nationally and we call on each of the settling companies to make a public commitment to implement these lead reduction standards on a national basis.” CEH will post names of companies that make a national commitment, and those that have not, on its web site at www.cehca.org.

The settlement negotiated over the past eighteen months sets strict standards for lead levels in all jewelry components, and requires that lead levels in children’s jewelry be reduced to trace amounts. Under the settlement terms, metal components in and coatings on children’s jewelry must contain less than 600 parts per million (ppm) of lead, while plastic (PVC) components can contain no more than 200 ppm. In lab testing commissioned by CEH, lead levels in PVC cords on costume jewelry ranged from 1400 to 20,000 ppm, and lead levels in a coating on one child’s bracelet tested at over 165,000 ppm. In tests conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and others, metal components often tested at over 500,000 ppm, and as high as 950,000, or 95% lead.

The settlement requires jewelry retailers to inform their suppliers of the reformulation requirements of the settlement within 90 days after it is entered by the court. Once they are informed, suppliers are required to eliminate or significantly reduce lead in jewelry as soon as possible. Each of the companies settling also agreed to pay $25,000, for an aggregate settlement of $1.875 million. The settlement will be used to establish a fund for testing jewelry for compliance in the future, to fund public education efforts on exposures to toxics in metals, and for penalties and reimbursement of legal costs.

More information, including a list of the companies involved in today’s settlement and a list of jewelry brand names, can be found here.