PhotoYears after the problem first came to light,  research on toxic chemicals in low-cost children’s and adult jewelry finds that more than half of the products contain high levels of hazardous chemicals.

The latest findings are contained in a study released by the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health and the Ecology Center.

Researchers tested for chemicals -- including lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, bromine and chlorine (PVC) – which have been linked in animal and some human studies to acute allergies and to long-term health impacts such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer.

More than half (57 percent) of the products tested had a “high” level of concern due to the presence of one or more hazardous chemicals detected at high levels. Four products contained over 10 percent cadmium, a known carcinogen.

Five years earlier ...

ConsumerAffairs reported in 2007 that sample testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed that 20 percent of children's jewelry contained unsafe levels of lead. Other tests by state officials in Maryland, Ohio and Massachusetts suggested that the percentages must be even higher.

In the latest tests, 50 percent of the jewelry tested contained lead, with over half containing more than 300 ppm of lead in one or more components, exceeding the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) limit of lead in children’s products.

“There is no excuse for jewelry, especially children’s jewelry, to be made with some of the most well-studied and dangerous substances on the planet,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center and founder of “We urge manufacturers to start replacing these chemicals with non-toxic substances immediately.”

14 retailers

Ninety-nine pieces of jewelry were tested from 14 different retailers, including Walmart and other major nationwide retailers:

  • Ming 99 City,
  • Burlington Coat Factory,
  • Target,
  • Big Lots,
  • Claire's,
  • Glitter,
  • Forever 21,
  • Walmart,
  • H&M,
  • Meijers,
  • Kohl's,
  • Justice,
  • Icing and
  • Hot Topic.

Samples were predominantly collected from retailers in Michigan, along with five other states including Ohio, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Vermont. measured the presence of these chemicals with an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer – a proven, accurate indicator of elements in products.


Highlights of the findings:

  • OVERALL -- 59 percent (58) of products tested were rated as having HIGH level of concern due the presence of one or more hazardous chemical detected at high levels.
  • LEAD -- 27 of 99 (27 percent) of jewelry contained greater than 300 ppm lead in one or more components. 300 ppm is the CPSC limit of lead in children’s products.
  • CADMIUM -- 10 of 99 (10 percent) of jewelry contained greater than 100 ppm cadmium in one or more components.
  • CHROMIUM -- 92 of 95 (93 percent) of jewelry contained greater than 100 ppm chromium.
  • NICKEL -- 30 of 95 (30 percent) of jewelry contained greater than 100 ppm nickel.
  • BROMINATED FLAME RETARDANTS -- 7 of 95 (7 percent) of jewelry contained brominated flame retardants (greater than 1,000 ppm bromine).
  • CHLORINE -- One-third, 11 of 95 (12 percent) of jewelry contained PVC (greater than 25,000 ppm chlorine).

Other chemicals analyzed include mercury and arsenic.

Feds warn of risks

According to the CPSC, parents and caregivers should not allow young children to be given, or to play with, cheap metal jewelry, especially when unsupervised. The CPSC states that: “Swallowing, sucking on or chewing a metal charm or necklace could result in exposure to lead, cadmium or other heavy metals, which are known to be toxic at certain levels of exposure.”

In 2010, however, the CPSC declined to regulate cadmium in children’s products, and instead has supported an industry-developed voluntary standard.

In response, and in the absence of federal leadership, six states have moved to regulate cadmium, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. Legislation to restrict cadmium in children’s products has been introduced in Michigan, but the legislature has failed to schedule a hearing for the bill (SB 764).

Federally, a wave of consumer pressure is pushing a rewrite of the Toxics Substance Control Act (TSCA), the federal law that regulates chemicals in commerce. The TSCA reform bill, the Safe Chemicals Act (S. 847), was introduced by Senator Richard Lautenburg in 2011 and now has 15 co-sponsors.

"Toxic jewelry is a symptom of the complete failure of our federal chemical regulatory system,” said Alexis Blizman, legislative and policy director for the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health. “Downstream companies like jewelry retailers, and downstream users like our children, will never be safe until we reform our chemicals laws to ensure products are safe before they arrive on store shelves.”

Since 2007 researchers at the Ecology Center have performed more than 20,000 tests on 7,000 consumer products, including pet products, vehicles, women's handbags, jewelry, back-to-school products, children's toys, building products and children's car seats.

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