Recent Cadmium Recalls Spark Concern and Legislation

On Tuesday, July 13, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a voluntary recall in cooperation with Tween Brands, Inc. of about 137,000 pieces of children’s jewelry containing high levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal. Tween Brands owns Justice, the clothing store for preteen girls formerly known as Limited Too. The recall is the sixth in a series of recent product callbacks due to hazardous levels of cadmium. Cadmium, a naturally occurring metal, ranks 7th on the Center for Disease Control’s priority list of the 275 most hazardous substances in the environment. It is carcinogenic, and can cause bone softening, brain damage, and kidney failure. Children can be exposed if they bite, suck on, or swallow cadmium.

The Tween Brands recall was prompted by test reports submitted by the company. A Tween Brands spokeswoman, Carrie Bloom, said the recall was decided “out of an abundance of caution.” The recall involves 19 different styles of metal necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Customers can return the jewelry to Justice stores for a full refund. View the CPSC’s press release announcing the recall.

Similarly, on June 30, the CPSC issued a recall of 66,220 children’s bracelets and 2,220 rings distributed by SmileMakers, Inc, citing high levels of cadmium in the products. The jewelry was distributed for free at doctor and dentist’s offices, and the recall instructs parents to simply discard the products. The CPSC also issued a recall on June 8 in cooperation with McDonald’s. The agency recalled over 12 million “Shrek” movie-themed drinking glasses that were sold at restaurants nationwide. The paint on the glasses contained elevated levels of cadmium, and the CPSC was concerned that children would touch the paint and put their hands in their mouths. McDonald’s offered a $3 refund for the glasses, which is $1 more than their purchase price.

Product manufacturers, most in Asia, have begun using cadmium in products more frequently due to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), which set a new, stringent standard for lead in children’s products (read more in Scott Peterkin’s May 24 post and Nena Street’s February 22 post). Cadmium prices have recently plummeted, so the metal provides a convenient and inexpensive substitute for lead. Though the CPSIA contains some regulation of cadmium, the standards limiting its use are significantly less strict than those regulating lead, and only apply to painted toys, not jewelry.

Fashion industry representatives are calling for a review of national cadmium standards in consumer products. Responding to this concern, the CPSC has started a scientific literature review of cadmium and other heavy metals, and is developing a highly protective standard for cadmium in children’s products. Currently, the agency applies a legal guideline that allows action against “hazardous levels” of cadmium without setting specific allowable levels. Earlier this year, CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum publicly warned manufacturers in Hong Kong not to replace lead with cadmium or other toxic metals. The agency reiterated its warning to Asian manufacturers during the announcement of Tuesday’s Tween Brands recall. Some American companies have started voluntarily testing for cadmium in their children’s jewelry as a preventative measure. To read more about recent cadmium-related recalls, seehttp://www.themonitor.com/articles/jewelry-40761-cadmium-children.html.

Identical bills are pending in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that prohibit the sale or distribution of children’s jewelry containing cadmium, barium, and antimony. (S. 2975, the Safe Kids’ Jewelry Act, and H.R. 4428, the Children’s Toxic Metals Act). As well, several states have passed legislation limiting or banning cadmium in children’s products. (See Scott Peterkin’s May 24 post and Nena Street’s February 22 post.) Recent actions include:

Connecticut: H.B. 5314 (signed into law June 4, 2010) prohibits the manufacture, sale, and distribution of children’s jewelry that contains more than 75 parts per million of cadmium, beginning July 1, 2014.

New Jersey: S-1636 (introduced in the Senate March 4, 2010) prohibits the manufacture, sale, distribution, and importation of products intended for children under 6 that contain any lead, mercury, or cadmium.

New York: S-9561 (introduced in the Senate January 19, 2010) prohibits the sale of children’s jewelry that contains over 0.5 parts per million leachable cadmium. As well, A-9771 (introduced in the Senate January 26, 2010) bans the use of any cadmium in products made for children under 12.

Elizabeth Gray is a Summer Associate at Dorsey & Whitney LLP. Please see our web site at www.dorsey.com.

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