Settlement Ends Health Threat from Cadmium-Tainted Jewelry

Oakland, CA-On Friday, an Alameda County Superior Court approved a legal agreement between the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and twenty-six major jewelry retailers and suppliers, including Saks Incorporated, Target, The Gap (including Old Navy and Banana Republic), Forever 21and others, setting strict limits on cadmium in jewelry. The agreement calls for jewelry sold by the companies to contain no more than 0.03% (300 parts per million) of cadmium by December 31, 2011.  

“We welcome this strong action, which will protect our children and families from the health risks of an unnecessary hazard in jewelry,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “Importantly, the companies are going beyond California law in agreeing to instruct their suppliers to provide them with reformulated jewelry on a nationwide basis.” The settling companies have also agreed to a total payment of $1.03 million, which includes payments to the State of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, funds for testing jewelry for compliance to the agreement, funds for CEH’s ongoing work to educate and protect Californians from toxic health hazards, and payments to help defer CEH’s legal expenses.

In February 2010, CEH initiated its legal action after finding high levels of cadmium in jewelry. Earlier this year, the nonprofit reached the first-ever legal agreement limiting cadmium in jewelry with Tween Brands, adivision of Dress Barn. That settlement also calls for no more than 0.03% cadmium in jewelry and is effective on December 31, 2011.   

Cadmium is a heavy metal that can cause cancer, genetic damage, and kidney damage. A study published in March 2011 found that children who mouth on or swallow cadmium-tainted jewelry can be exposed to as much as 100 times the maximum exposure limit. Also, a 2006 study concluded that exposure in children “should be limited as much as possible” to prevent direct health problems and problems later in their lives. People can be exposed to cadmium if they touch, suck on or accidentally swallow metal pieces, and studies show the toxin can stay in our bodies for more than two decades.

While the companies today have agreed to limit the total amount of cadmium in components of their jewelry, industry opponents of this common-sense approach have hamstrung the ongoing ASTM (ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) standardssetting processes for cadmium in jewelry and in toys. Instead of a total cadmium content standard, industry has argued for a less health protective “leachable” cadmium approach.

But CEH notes that total content testing is less costly and more health protective because:

  • Total content testing is more consistent and does not vary as much as a product ages, thus protecting children and adults for the life of the product;
  • A total content standard can be included in specifications that manufacturers require their materials suppliers to meet. Non-compliant materials can be identified before they are used in the manufacture of a product, resulting simultaneously in a more efficient manufacturing process and consistently health-protective products;
  • For toys and children’s jewelry, total content testing for lead is already required by federal children’s products law; test results for cadmium can usually be obtained from the same test for no additional expense; and
  • For products not already tested for lead under federal law, total content testing is cheaper and less time-consuming than leach tests

CEH has a fifteen-year track record of protecting communities from the health impacts of toxic pollution and has previously uncovered toxic health threats to children from wood playground structures,toys, vinyl baby bibs and lunchboxes, imported candies, children’s medicines, and many other products. CEH also works with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. Last year the San Francisco Business Times bestowed its annual “Green Champion” award to CEH for its work to improve health and the environment in the Bay Area and beyond.

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List of companies in 9-2-11 cadmium settlement

Rainbow/5-7-9 Stores (AIJJ Enterprises/Rainbow Apparel)

Aeropostale

American Eagle Outfitters

Catherines Inc/Lane Bryant

Charlotte Russe

Claire’s

Cost Plus

Fiesta Jewelry

Finesse Novelty

Forever 21

Group USA

Haskell Jewels

Hot Topic

MJM Jewelry

Old Navy/Banana Republic/The Gap

Rodgers Sports Management

Saks Inc

Shalom Int’l

Tanya Creations

Target

The Buckle

The Wet Seal