Lead in Jewelry

Problem: During the last decade, research by public health experts and investigations by CEH and others found that lead was common in jewelry for children and adults. Children are particularly at risk from lead in children’s jewelry, especially young children who may suck on and even accidentally swallow lead-tainted items. In 2006, a four year old died days after swallowing a metal charm that was made almost entirely of lead. Numerous other children have been poisoned by jewelry containing high levels of lead.

CEH Action: Since 2003, CEH has led the effort to protect children and others from lead-tainted jewelry. We began widespread jewelry testing in 2003, and in 2004 we filed the first legal action in the country to stop the sale of lead-tainted jewelry. Our work helped prompt the largest consumer product recall in U.S. history, when just weeks after our legal action, more than 150 million pieces of potentially lead-tainted pieces of jewelry for kids were removed from gumball machines nationwide.

Solution: In 2006, together with the California Attorney General we reached a landmark legal agreement banning lead in jewelry from more than 70 major jewelry retailers and suppliers, including Target, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Toys R Us, Disney and dozens of others. Our legal settlement formed the basis for the tough jewelry law adopted by California and later enacted as part of the federal law on lead in children’s products.

CEH continues to monitor the jewelry industry for compliance to state and federal law. While we have find an overall high rate of compliance, our work has exposed numerous violations of the law and helped insure that companies take jewelry off the shelves when they fail to protect children and adults from lead hazards.

See the 2008 CEH Report, Illegal and Unhealthy: Lead in California Jewelry.

Also, see the 2010 peer-reviewed study demonstrating the success of our work on lead in jewelry, Reduction in the Prevalence of Lead-Containing Jewelry in California Following Litigation and Legislation.

What You Can Do: Because of the serious risks, CEH advises parents to avoid all cheap metal jewelry, especially for younger children. Jewelry with vinyl cords and some faux pearl jewelry may also pose lead hazards. Look for jewelry made of safer materials and buy from trusted sources. Keep adult costume jewelry away from kids, and if you’re pregnant or may become pregnant, avoid cheap metal jewelry.


Lead found in Disney Charms,  Reuters, June 11, 2008

California Moves to Regulate Lead in Adult Jewelry, Oakland Tribune, February 5, 2008

Lead Found in Toy Jewelry,  LA Times, December 13, 2007