According to Independent analysis done for the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH), the organization has found the toxic metal cadmium in many jewelry samples purchased at Papaya, Nordstrom Rack, Ross, and other national retailers. The analysis showed that some women’s shirts and dresses were sold with jewelry made of almost 100 percent cadmium. Prolonged exposure to cadmium can cause cancer and harm reproductive health.
Caroline Cox, senior scientist at the CEH said that when her team is investigating the use of a chemical like cadmium in a product, they buy as many items as they can. Then they check for cadmium using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer. If they find cadmium, the CEH subject their findings to independent review before making any announcement.
Consumer advocates were expecting the disappearance of cadmium in jewelry available in the U.S. after the use of the metal in children’s jewelry was outlawed in California and other states. California’s law allows a maximum of 0.03 percent cadmium content in children’s jewelry. The limit for children’s jewelry was set following an investigation in 2010 by the Associated Press that found cadmium in kids’ jewelry made in China. CEH’s testing in 2012 found almost zero cadmium in jewelry sold in the U.S. market.
However, there is no law regulating the content of adult jewelry. So, last year, the CEH decided to check cadmium in adult jewelry. Testing result of 31 adult jewelry pieces showed they were made of at least 40% cadmium and the majority of the samples were at least 90% cadmium.
Breathing or ingesting cadmium can cause osteoporosis and kidney dysfunction according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adults won’t bite their jewelry as children do but they can still ingest cadmium if they eat with their unwashed hand that has touched the jewelry.
There is an inadequate study of cadmium absorption through the skin but skin contact can cause psoriasis and other skin rashes. Ingesting cadmium by breathing happens to cigarette smokers.
The executive director of the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association, Brent Cleaveland did not believe the CEH findings is an indication of a big problem. He said that almost all the major retailers have strict systems for testing and analyzing the products they sell.
Most of the jewelry items that contained cadmium were bought from Ross, a retailer with over 1400 outlets in 38 states. One necklace pendant was found to be 100% cadmium. Ross issued a written statement that it has addressed the issue with its supplier. However, Ross did not mention its action on its stock items that include the brands Tacera and Vibe Sportswear, where high levels of cadmium were found.
There were no comments or responses to queries from Trend Textile Inc. and the Skate Group Inc., the suppliers of Tacera and Vibe Sportswear respectively.
Papaya which has over 100 retail locations across the U.S., said that it is a serious problem if cadmium is used in the products it sells. According to Papaya’s attorney, Steven Kim, the retailer has stopped buying from its China supplier and has recalled the jewelry where cadmium was found.
According to Kim, Papaya requires the manufacturers of the products it sells to warrant that their products meet applicable legal requirements. Kim added that Papaya will not be doing business with manufacturers which don’t comply.
Emily Sterken, Nordstrom’s spokeswoman said that the retailer has informed its vendors about the situation and is getting more information.
For a long time, the Center for Environmental Health has used California’s Proposition 65 to compel companies to reduce the levels of harmful substances like cadmium and lead in consumer products.
California’s Proposition 65 requires businesses to warn consumers if the product will significantly expose them to chemicals that have been listed because they can harm the reproductive system or cause cancer. So far CEH has made claims against 36 companies for non-compliance with Prop 65 requirements. The companies had agreed to stop selling jewelry that contains more than 0.03 percent cadmium.
Why is cadmium still used in consumer products? According to Bruce Fowler, a Rollins School of Public Health professor at Emory University, it’s because cadmium is cheap and “a useful metal alloy.”
Silver, platinum or gold are used in expensive jewelry but the cheaper ones are made from metals like cadmium, lead or nickel, which can cause allergic reactions. Cadmium is also often used as a substitute for lead, another toxic metal, in making shiny pendants and charm bracelets.