4 on Your Side: Dangerous Jewelry
The jewelry you buy your children could make them sick.
For years, the U.S. worked to get rid of lead in children's products. The lead leached out of jewelry and zipper pulls and made children ill. But now that lead has effectively been banned, some companies overseas are using another dangerous metal in its place: cadmium.
And parents are concerned about the effects.
Juwana Graham knows all too well the dangers of children's jewelry. When she got a new pair of shoes a few years ago, the shoes came with a free necklace. Her 4-year old son Jarnell got the necklace. He accidentally swallowed it, and died days later.
His mom sobbed when she remembered those horrible days. "This is something you would think would come out of a movie, but it's not," she told us. "Sometimes I feel like it's kind of like, all because I shouldn't have bought those shoes."
Jarnell died because the necklace was nearly 100% lead. It dissolved in his stomach. And his case brought attention to the huge problem with lead-tainted jewelry.
In 2008, the government banned lead from children's products.
The problem now is that many companies have replaced the lead with cadmium, a metal known to cause gastrointestinal problems, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Dr. Mark Kostic, who runs the poison center at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, said long-term exposure to cadmium can cause big problems.
"If it does stay inside of you long enough to get absorbed, there is the potential to develop GI problems, also over a long period of time with repeated exposures there could be kidney problems and bone problems from cadmium," he said.
Workers who have been exposed to cadmium also have a higher cancer risk. The EPA calls it the seventh most hazardous substance on earth. Here, cadmium is regulated. But in China, it is being used in millions of children's products that are shipped to the U.S.
Earlier this summer, McDonalds was forced to recall 12 million "Shrek" glasses found to contain cadmium.
Walmart pulled its entire line of Miley Cyrus jewelry because it was full of cadmium.
And Tween Brands had to recall more than 130,000 pieces tainted with the heavy metal. Some testers identified jewelry containing more than 90% cadmium.
Now Walmart has started labeling much of its jewelry "not appropriate for children under 14" as a precaution.
But no one is really sure just how dangerous cadmium is, in these products.
Dr. Kostic explained why. "This is something new that we don't have much information on as far as what kind of exposure will cause enough of the cadmium to leach out of the paint or leach out of the metal, there's just not enough information yet."
Also, you can't tell if something contains cadmium just by looking at it. Dr. Kostic is recommending more testing so that the government can establish a safe threshold.
"It's something that is worthy of study because the leaching is very important to know," he said. "Leaching" is the way the cadmium leaves the product and enters the body. In the case of children's jewelry, the leaching would occur as a result of sucking or chewing on the material.
But parents we talked to don't want to see any cadmium in children's products, regardless of how quickly it might leach out.
"I still don't think that makes sense cause you're replacing one harmful chemnical with another chemical, that's still putting kids at risk especially little kids," one mom told us.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission has asked other countries not to substitute cadmium or arsenic, also a poison, in children's products.