Regulators are investigating children’s charm bracelets and pendants imported from China that have been shown to contain cadmium. As a heavy metal, cadmium ranks seventh on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s toxic substances priority list right behind arsenic, lead, mercury and PCBs.
Cadmium is a soft, whitish metal found in the soil. It is often used in rechargeable batteries but can also be found in pigments, electroplating and plastic. The cadmium used to make jewelry becomes a poison when it is either absorbed through the skin by contact or by being transferred from a child’s hands to their mouth. Cadmium is known to cause cancer in people who have inhaled or swallowed it and has been shown to hinder brain development in the very young. Cadmium is also linked to lung and kidney damage, as well as, fragile bones.
After strict guidelines for the amount of lead allowed in children’s toys and jewelry were put into place, Chinese manufacturers began substituting cadmium for lead. They realized that cadmium can be obtained cheaply and that as an easily malleable substance, it can readily be substituted for lead.
Items examined in the initial investigation were found to contain very high levels of cadmium (84-91 percent by weight). These products were sold in chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Claire’s in late 2009. They were also found at dollar stores in Ohio, California, New York and Texas. Wal-Mart has already pulled the suspected items off of its shelves.