Children’s Jewelry may Contain Dangerous Levels of Cadmium

<"">Cadmium, considered an even more dangerous toxic metal than lead, is a known carcinogen and can interfere with brain development in very young children; longer-term effects of cadmium might not always be immediately evident.

The federal government has long been concerned about toxic metals which could be ingested by children who then put their hands in their mouths. As regulations regarding lead have strengthened, cadmium has shown up in a wide variety of children’s products, specifically jewelry. On the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) priority list of 275 most hazardous substances in the environment, cadmium ranks No. 7.

Now, says Science Daily, children mouthing or swallowing jewelry containing cadmium could be exposed to as much as 100 times the recommended maximum exposure limit for the dangerous metal, according to research just published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP). The study measured bioavailability, the amount of cadmium that leached out of the jewelry, and found that damaged pieces could leach up to 30 times more cadmium.

“Our hope is that the potential hazards of cadmium-laden jewelry will be taken seriously … the amounts of cadmium obtained from other items were extraordinarily high and clearly dangerous if these items were mouthed or swallowed by children,” said study author Jeffrey Weidenhamer of Ashland University in Ohio, quoted Science Daily.

Cadmium can lead to kidney, bone, lung, and liver disease, with contamination of the dangerous heavy metal presenting global health concerns and with most exposure originating with food or tobacco grown with cadmium-rich phosphate fertilizer, said Science Daily. Adverse effects tend to follow chronic, long-term exposure, but since cadmium accumulates in the body, all exposure should be avoided. Efforts to regulate cadmium’s use and disposal is being conducted by agencies globally, including the World Health Organization (WHO), said Science Daily.

In testing conducted for a 2010 Associated Press (AP) investigative report, Weidenhamer revealed that high cadmium concentrations were turning up in cheap jewelry imported into the U.S. from China, presenting a new pathway in which children were being exposed to the toxic metal. “It was a complete surprise to find such high amounts of cadmium—up to 90 percent by weight—in some of these jewelry items,” Weidenhamer said, quoted Science Daily. “Given the toxicity of cadmium, information on its bioavailability was needed in order to evaluate the potential risks. That is what motivated [the EHP] study,” he added.

Science Daily noted that following many children’s jewelry recalls over cadmium issues, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued recommended limits on cadmium bioavailability based on how much leached after an item soaked in a saline solution for six hours, to simulate mouthing, or in a dilute hydrochloric acid solution for 24 hours, to simulate ingestion.

One piece tested under simulated mouthing yielded 2,109 micrograms of cadmium, well over 100 times the CPSC-recommended limit of 18 micrograms for maximum exposure through mouthing; eight other pieces exceeded the 18-microgram limit, according to Science Daily. Of 92 pieces of jewelry tested under ingestion conditions, two pieces yielded over 20,000 micrograms of cadmium, 100 times the CPSC-recommended maximum exposure of 200 micrograms through ingestion; 14 samples yielded more than 1,000 micrograms. Tests also revealed that cadmium release increased linearly: The longer an item was in a child’s stomach, the greater the potential for harm, said Science Daily. The team also looked at intentionally damaged jewelry to determine cadmium exposure after typical use and found that six charms tested in dilute hydrochloric acid for 96 hours yielded a mean of 30,600 micrograms of cadmium, more than 30 times as much cadmium as intact charms, which yielded about 912 micrograms.

“To think there are products on the shelf that you could pull thousands of micrograms of cadmium off by simple extractions like this is very concerning,” Weidenhamer said, quoted Science Daily.

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