The issue of cadmium in children’s jewelry came to public attention in early 2010, when an Associated Press (AP) investigation revealed 12 of 103 pieces of mainly Chinese-made children’s costume jewelry, which AP had obtained in U.S. retail stores, contained at least 10 percent cadmium, some in the 80-90 percent range. Tests showed that pendants bought at stores such as Walmart and Claire’s contained between 246,000 and 346,000 parts per million (ppm) of cadmium, which ranks seventh on the U.S. government’s priority list of hazardous substances (lead is number two).
Experts interviewed by AP in Yiwu, a city that dominates China’s low- to mid-range jewelry making industry, said cadmium was being used in greater amounts in zinc alloys because its price had fallen and it could be worked at lower temperatures, saving energy and prompting less-frequent changes to silicon rubber molds. An official with China’s product safety agency told AP it would examine the findings on cadmium contamination. China reportedly does restrict cadmium in jewelry, but enforcement is lax. (Due to U.S. worker safety laws and standards, cadmium is no longer used in most American-made jewelry. However, minute trace amounts of the heavy metal—much lower than the amounts seen in the AP tests—can be found in recycled precious metals, because of cadmium’s earlier usage in metalsmithing.) The CPSC announced five voluntary recalls of children’s jewelry products containing cadmium during 2010.
The news about cadmium also spurred several states to introduce and, in some cases, enact laws regulating the amount of of cadmium permitted in children’s jewelry. (For a list of laws currently in effect, see "State Cadmium Laws" below.) These regulations differed in their limits, testing methods, and even what constituted "children’s jewelry." As the jewelry industry began grappling with the inconsistencies in various state proposals on cadmium, calls arose for a national standard to establish safe limits for the metal in children’s jewelry, akin to those on lead. (Lead limits were set as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 [CPSIA]. For more information, see the MJSA Guide to the CPSIA and State Lead Laws.)
In response, a group of retailers, manufacturers, testing labs, consumer groups, associations (including MJSA), and representatives of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) came together in June 2010 to form the ASTM F-15.24 Subcommittee on Children’s Jewelry, chaired by the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Association (FJATA).
The subcommittee’s goal was to develop a science-based children’s jewelry safety standard. That standard would cover the various potential hazards in children’s jewelry, from heavy metals (such as lead and cadmium) to the use of magnets, nickel, breakaway clasps, and other mechanical issues. It would also formulate an accepted definition of children’s jewelry, an age range for products to be covered, safe trace limits for heavy metals, and appropriate testing methods.
The subcommittee’s work was approved by ASTM in November 2011, with MJSA, as a subcommittee member, voting yes. The new standard is called "ASTM F2923-14 Specification for Consumer Product Safety for Children’s Jewelry." Among its many detailed recommendations, the standard calls for a 300 ppm total weight cadmium screening limit for children’s jewelry, with children defined as age 12 and under (the latter for consistency with the CPSIA).
If the cadmium content tests above the 300 ppm screening level, the ASTM standard calls for two other courses of action.
1. Jewelry small enough to be swallowed should undergo a "migration test," in which jewelry samples are tested to see how much cadmium can "migrate" out when a piece is immersed in a solution that simulates digestive acid. Extracted cadmium cannot exceed 200 μg (micrograms), according to the standard, which also recommends a migration testing method used by the CPSC (CPSC-CH-E1004-110); for a description of the test, click here to download "Standard Operating Procedure for Determining Cadmium (Cd) Extractability from Children’s Metal Jewelry—February 3, 2011."
2. Jewelry too large to be swallowed should be sampled, and the sample should undergo a six-hour saline test. This test would simulate exposure to cadmium that can occur if a child mouths or sucks on a piece of jewelry. The sample is immersed in the solution for six hours, and the extracted cadmium cannot exceed 18 μg (micrograms). The exact testing procedures are described in the proposed safety standard.
ASTM is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world and a trusted source for technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services. The CPSC often references relevant ASTM standards into its regulations.
Inez Moore Tenenbaum, the current chair of the CPSC, deemed the jewelry industry to be in compliance with the ASTM children’s jewelry standard. She also stated that as long as industry is in compliance with a voluntary standard, there is no reason to lobby Congress to include it in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act regulations. These regulations current cover lead but not cadmium or other safety issues in children’s jewelry.
As a result, it’s not likely there will be a federal law any time soon on children’s jewelry safety, to pre-empt conflicting state cadmium laws.
Several states currently have laws that limit the amount of cadmium in children’s jewelry:
California: Sets a limit of 300 parts per million (ppm) limit, or 0.03 percent, by total weight for jewelry marketed to children six years of age or younger. The total weight test mirrors the kind of test required by the CPSIA for lead content. Effective currently.
Connecticut: Sets a limit of 75 ppm, or 0.0075 percent, by total weight for any jewelry marketed to children age 12 and under. Testing method not specified. Effective date: July 2016.
Illinois: Sets a limit of 75 ppm, or 0.0075 percent, based on the amount of cadmium that leaches out of a jewelry sample after a two-hour solubility test, using the ASTM protocol. "Children’s jewelry" is defined as any jewelry markted to children age 12 and under. Effective currently.
Maryland: Sets a limit of 75 ppm, or 0.0075 percent, by total weight for any jewelry marketed to children age 12 and under. The total weight test mirrors the kind of test required by the CPSIA for lead content. Effective currently.
Minnesota: Sets a limit of 75 ppm, or 0.0075 percent, based on the amount of cadmium that leaches out of a jewelry sample after a two-hour solubility test, using the ASTM protocol. "Children’s jewelry" is defined as any jewelry markted to children age 6 and under. Effective currently.
Rhode Island: Sets a limit of 300 ppm, or 0.03 percent, total weight for any children intended for children age 12 and under. If the amount of cadmium surpasses that limit, a second test using the ASTM F2923-14 specification is done. Effective currently.
Note: A lawsuit settled in California, which took effect at the end of 2011, also affects wholesalers of both children’s and adult jewelry—at least those that sell to the 26 retailers and suppliers of children’s jewelry that agreed to the lawsuit’s terms. These companies have agreed not to sell adult or children’s jewelry anywhere in the country that exceeds a cadmium total weight of 300 ppm. The companies include: AIJJ Enterprises/Rainbow Apparel (Rainbow/5-7-9 Stores); Aeropostale; American Eagle Outfitters; Catherines Inc/Lane Bryant; Charlotte Russe; Claire’s; Cost Plus; Fiesta Jewelry; Finesse Novelty; Forever 21; Group USA; Haskell Jewels; Hot Topic; MJM Jewelry; Old Navy/Banana Republic/The Gap; Rodgers Sports Management; Saks Inc.; Shalom Int’l; Tanya Creations; Target; The Buckle; and The Wet Seal.
Cadmium, when used, is mostly found in non-precious, white-metal alloys for cast costume jewelry, where it helps to lower melting temperatures and is used to produce better or more complicated castings. It is also used in some solders, where it is known to flow better and doesn’t oxidize as easily as other metals.
Most solder now used in the U.S. has no cadmium added. If it has any cadmium at all, there would be only trace amounts. The same holds true for lead-free alloys.
Because traces of cadmium exceeding agreed safe limits are occasionally—but very rarely—found in precious metal jewelry, all types of jewelry are included in the ASTM safety standard. Both precious metal and fashion jewelry would thus be subject to federal law limiting cadmium, should legislation adopting the ASTM standard pass Congress. (In this regard, cadmium regulations would differ from the existing CPSC regulations on lead, which exempt precious metal jewelry because it’s almost lead free.)
If the CPSC were to ever adopt the ASTM F2923-14 children’s jewelry safety standard into federal regulation, it’s likely that the commission would require cadmium testing to be conducted by CPSC-accredited labs, just as it does for testing of lead in children’s jewelry. It’s also likely that states would follow the CPSC lead.
In addition, the CPSC would also be likely to require the same total weight testing procedures for cadmium that it mandates for lead testing. To see that lead testing procedure, click here.