Federal and state watchdogs opened a new front on Monday in the campaign to keep poisons out of Chinese imports, launching inquiries into high levels of cadmium in children’s jewelry, while Wal-Mart pulled many suspect items from its store shelves.
A day after The Associated Press documented the contamination in an investigative report, the top US consumer safety regulator warned Asian manufacturers not to substitute other toxins for lead in children’s charm bracelets and pendants.
Regulators and lawmakers reacted swiftly to the report, which found that some Chinese manufacturers have been using cadmium, sometimes at extraordinarily high levels. Congress clamped down on lead in those products in 2008, but cadmium is even more harmful.
Melissa Hill, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc, called the findings “troubling.” She said the company, which is the world’s largest retailer, had a special responsibility “to take swift action, and we are doing so.”
Members of Congress voiced anger about the imports. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said he was reviewing the law that regulates such substances to decide if a fix is needed.
Cadmium, which is known to cause cancer, is a soft, whitish metal that occurs naturally in soil. It is perhaps best known as half of rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, but also is used in pigments, electroplating and plastic.
Cadmium is attractive to Chinese manufacturers because it is cheap and easy to work with. But, like lead, it can hinder brain development in the very young, recent research shows.
In taped remarks to be delivered yesterday in Hong Kong, the chairwoman of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission urged other countries to ensure that manufacturers do not substitute cadmium, antimony or barium in place of lead in children’s products.
“All of us should be committed to keeping hazardous or toxic levels of heavy metals out of … toys and children’s products,” Inez Tenenbaum said in a transcript of remarks to an international toy safety conference.
Tenenbaum singled out cadmium for special vigilance and said: “Voluntary efforts will only take us so far.”
The commission immediately said it was opening an investigation into the report’s findings, promising to “take action as quickly as possible to protect the safety of children.”
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also said on Monday that his office would investigate cadmium content in some products, particularly costume jewelry.
Blumenthal would not say whether he’s investigating particular merchants. Rather than “singling out any stores, we’re interested in any retail outlets that sell jewelry that may have cadmium,” he said.
New York state Senator James Alesi said he will introduce legislation to ban the sale of cadmium in jewelry in his state.
“We must act immediately to keep this contaminated jewelry out of the hands of children and reduce their exposure to toxic substances,” said Alesi, a Republican.
Children can be exposed by sucking or biting such jewelry. But without direct exposure, most people do not experience its worst effects: cancer, kidneys that leak vital protein and bones that spontaneously snap.
The worrisome results came in tests of bracelet charms sold at Walmart stores, at the jewelry chain Claire’s and at a Dollar N More store. High amounts of cadmium also were detected in The Princess and The Frog movie-themed pendants.
US-based trade groups, as well as distributors and sellers of the jewelry containing cadmium, said their products meet safety standards. Cadmium is regulated in painted toys but not in jewelry.
A cadmium specialist with the Beijing office of Asian Metal Ltd, a market research and consultancy firm, said products with cadmium are normally directed to the Chinese domestic market.
“This is just the latest example of the need for stronger consumer safety laws in this country, especially for products manufactured and marketed for children, and shows yet again why products from China should be subject to additional scrutiny,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat.
“Between children’s jewelry, tainted milk and contaminated pet food, China has a long record of producing unsafe products, and the US should continue to be wary of all products arriving from China,” DeLauro said.
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