When buying a product for a child, what is the primary deciding factor?

Cadmium in Jewelry? What?

The world is abuzz with reports of major retailers including Claire’s and Wal-mart stocking the shelves with children’s jewelry containing cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal. The report that triggered this fury of interest in the safety of jewelry products was released by the Associated Press on January 12, 2010, following confirmation that 12 out of 102 pieces of jewelry tested by the AP contained high levels of cadmium.

As politicians at the CPSC promise to investigate, fundamental questions remain. Is this really legal? Why on Earth would anyone knowingly manufacture a product to contain a substance known to cause developmental disturbances, kidney failure and death in children?

The Logic of Rulemaking in the U.S.

In 2008, President Bush signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) into law setting new, supposedly tougher requirements on children’s products and toys.

With respect to heavy metals, the CPSIA carries 2 basic sets of requirements. The law sets limits on the total amount of lead permitted to be in children’s products in any accessible material, including surface coatings. It also restricts soluble heavy metal content in surface coatings on children’s toys.

Neither of these requirements addresses cadmium content in children’s jewelry. So, essentially in the United States, it is perfectly legal to sell children’s jewelry containing any amount of cadmium.

The only limit the CPSIA sets on cadmium is in soluble content on surface coatings on children’s toys. Soluble content refers to the limited amount of the metal that might leach out of a paint or scrapable material if you partially digest it in a very weak acid. This does not measure the total amount of the metal in the toy.

Trading One Evil for Another

Because the CPSIA bans excessive levels of lead in children’s products, manufacturers began scrambling to find alternatives. Cadmium became a surprisingly easy choice. It has many of the same physical properties of lead, it is cheap, it is legal and no one is looking for it.

When retailers or brands source products, they give manufacturers and resellers a list of requirements these products must abide by. Generally, these lists are gathered by regulatory requirements for the markets in which the products will be sold. Sometimes, these lists include what the retailer or brand has identified as hazardous.

For example, for a children’s toy sold in the U.S., a retailer might require a manufacturer to demonstrate that their products contain less than 300 parts per million total lead, 90 parts per million lead in surface coatings, 1000 parts per million phthalates, etc. They might also add requirements to the list from other regions of the world or quality-based requirements, demanding for example, that the product contain a limited amount of Nickel.

Manufacturers demonstrate compliance to these legal and business-related requirements by testing or certifying their products.

When manufacturers were faced with finding an alternative for lead, they scoured their options, considered their testing programs and chose a path forward in line with their bottomlines.

The Ridiculous Nature of It All

Putting the lack of restriction of cadmium in children’s jewelry in perspective, let’s consider the following:
  • In many U.S. States, cadmium content in packaging materials is limited to 100 parts per million.
  • In Europe, cadmium content is restricted to 100 parts per million in all plastics and surface coatings in all products.
  • In China, Europe and every other country with a similar regulation, cadmium is restricted to 100 parts per million in electronic and electrical equipment.
  • In the State of California, products that contain enough cadmium to cause an exposure are required to bear a warning label that advises consumers of their risks.
  • At the U.S. federal level, cadmium in children’s jewelry is perfectly legal.

China will look into cadmium in children’s jewelry

Information about the CPSIA
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California, the USA, and Lead in Jewelry


In California, lawmakers are making a strong statement to companies who make products intended for children: Lead is unacceptable.

While the federal government has set nationwide limits on lead in children's products, California's requirements and enforcement policies are special. Disclosure of and restrictive limits on lead content are stricter.

Federal Requirements
Under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, lead is restricted in children's products to 300 parts per million for base materials (called substrate) and 90 parts per million for surface coatings.

California Lead in Jewelry
California's lead in jewelry law, commonly referred to AB 2901, restricts lead levels in more than just children's products. The limits of allowable lead in the product under AB 2901 vary depending on material type. (More information from DTSC is available here.)

California Proposition 65
In California, consumers are greeted at the store by very different labels on their products than consumers in other US States. Under Proposition 65, businesses are required to disclose exposures of hazardous substances in products or in the environment in order to give the general public the opportunity to make choices to protect themselves. This has led to the widespread use of warning labels for any substance listed on the Prop 65 list. These labels are found not only on ordinary consumer products that may contain listed substances, but also on buildings and areas that contain listed substances. (More information on Prop 65 is available here.)

So, what am I getting at?
There is a very different regulatory and enforcement environment in California than there is anywhere else in the country. Last year, as the California DTSC swung into its enforcement activities for the lead in jewelry law, they were shocked to find a startling number of products claiming to be lead-free that upon testing, was shown to contain potentially dangerous levels of the heavy metal.

Many of these items were jewelry products intended for children. Some of them were religious children's jewelry. One product, according to the DTSC, a children's wooden angel pendant necklace contained more than 73 percent lead.

For consumers the message is BUYER BEWARE. Oftentimes, we buy little trinkets or cheap jewelry for our children trusting that the products are safe, but some of these items can be quite dangerous. If you are concerned about jewelry products in your home, keep up to date on the latest product recalls at the CPSC website, check out the mass of resources available on the leadlead-containing jewelry law on the California DTSC website and take a look at the website of the Centers for Environmental Health (CEH) which has posted a list of stores and brands recently found to sell or market jewelry containing lead.

Images on this post courtesy of: California DTSC
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WIVBTV News Report: Toxic Toys

WIVBTV News 4 reports on the hidden hazards of toys on shelves in the US
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Toxic Lead & Your Family

Do Your Part to Protect Your Family From Toxic Lead

We all know about lead paint having seen the numerous HUD disclosures from landlords requiring a discussion on lead in paint in our homes. What many of us does not know is that lead is often present in many of the consumer products that we buy on a regular basis.

Lead was once widely used not only as a stabilizer and corrosion inhibitor in paints, but also as a stabilizer in plastics. For this reason, there are a number of products which may still have issues with lead, either from an intentional addition of the substance at the factory or from contamination from dirty or uncontrolled factory conditions.

Lead may be an issue in the following types of products (non-exhaustive):
  • Plastics, especially plastics made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
  • Electroplated materials
  • Ceramics, especially earthen-ware or traditional Mexican or Native American pottery
  • Products with bright pigments, especially red or orange pigments
  • Surface coatings or inks
  • Cheap jewelry
  • Pewter products
  • Porcelain products
  • Products NOT labeled for children’s use 

While you may not be able to physically see lead or easily test for it in the products in your home, there are some things that you can do to protect yourself and your family.

  • Never eat or drink from ceramic plates or cups if the glazing is corroded or chipped.
  • Never eat or drink from ceramic plates or cups if the item is labeled for decorative use only.
  • Never use ceramic plates or cups in the microwave unless the product is labeled as microwave safe.
  • Never give a young child an adult product or a product that is not specifically labeled for a child’s use if that product can be placed in the child’s mouth.
  • If you see stucco style paint on the walls in your home, and it begins to chip, immediately repair the wall.
  • If you buy toys, children’s products or food contact materials at a flea market or discount store, double check the CPSC website to ensure that a product recall has not been issued in the past for the product.
  • For any electroplated materials, if the surface has begun to wear through to the underlying material, do not give to a child.
  • Never give small pieces of metal jewelry to a child that the child can place in the mouth.
See how products in your home rate at HealthyStuff.org
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Baby Crib Safety: How to Protect Your Baby

Baby cribs continue to be in the news for the dangers they pose to infants when parents worry least, tucked away, fast asleep.

The sad truth is that poorly designed cribs can lead to infant death and serious injuries.

Infant cribs may pose the following hazards:

  • Suffocation
    • Loosely fitting bedding, blankets, cords and improper mattress materials may impede an infants ability to breathe.
  • Entrapment
    • This insidious hazard may lead to suffocation and/or broken bones in baby cribs that are improperly designed.
  • Falls
    • When cribs malfunction, babies can fall, leading to serious injuries or death.
  • Puncture
    • When a crib is made with materials that can easily dislodge or break or when it is constructed using improper materials, such as staples, the crib may pose a stabbing hazard to the baby.

Do We Really Have a Crib Safety Problem in the Industrialized World?

In 2009, the CPSC and Health Canada recalled more than 2.1 million drop-side baby cribs sold under the Stork Craft and Fisher Price brands due to 110 reports of incidents associated with the cribs, including suffocation, entrapment and falls. Fifteen of these incidents were entrapments. Of these, 4 resulted in suffocation. Twenty of the 110 incidents were falls, causing concussions, bumps and bruises.

Other brands recalled in 2009 by the CPSC included LaJobi, Simplicity, Jardine, Amby Baby and SunKids for both suffocation and entrapment hazards.

How to Protect Your Infant

Being aware of how to protect infants in their cribs is absolutely paramount for caregivers. The CPSC advises the following:
  • Never allow gaps larger than 2 fingers in width between the mattress and the sides of the crib.
  • Never put pillows or thick blankets or quilts in the baby’s crib.
  • Always assemble the crib according to the instructions provided with the product, to the letter.
  • Never use old, broken, rebuilt or modified cribs.
  • Always place cribs away from windows with blinds or curtains. Cords from these window treatments can strangle infants.
  • Do not add extra padding or mattress pads. Only use the bedding intended for the specific crib that you are using. The mattress should be firm and tight-fitting in the crib.
  • Never use a crib that has missing parts, missing slats or loose hardware.
  • Always place an infant to sleep on his/her back.
  • Check the CPSC website for recall announcements. For future announcements sign up for their email listserv, which will send a news release directly to your email for all products recalled.

CPSC Crib Information Center
CPSC List of Crib Recalls
Two Infants Suffocated to Death by Hammock: Thousands of Units Recalled
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Toxics in products? Isn't this just over-reaction?

Product Safety FAQ

If you have a question on product safety, on how products are regulated or on toxic substances in products, we want to hear it! Leave a comment with your question and we’ll be sure to highlight the issue on the blog.

As our first Q&A, a friend, Mike B. out of Colorado Springs, asks:
"We hear so much hype about toxics in products but there doesn’t seem to be much behind it. Isn’t a lot of this just over-reaction? Is there really anything to the hype behind toxic substances in products?"

Good question Mike!

There is a lot of hype out there, for example, the Zhu Zhu Pets scandal last Christmas. There is also a lot of really astounding, really scary things that can have a real effect in terms of public health and the environment because of toxic substances (and other hazards) in consumer products. The key is to not buy into the panic and the hype but to stay informed and on top of what you can do to take charge of hazards from products in your home.

Some examples of real things that have happened and that are going on:
  • Report from 2007 on child with lead poisoning thought to be a result of lead in dinner plates
  • Report from CDC in 2003 of child with lead poisoning from dinnerware
  • Report from CDC in 2006 of child dying of lead poisoning following ingestion of a charm
  • 2003 CDC study finds that more than 75 percent of the US population has measurable urinary levels of metabolites of seven phthalates, synthetic substances used in the production of plastic, known to disrupt how the body processes hormones
  • As evidenced by the numerous CPSC and Health Canada recalls, children are still dying from suffocation hazards associated with window treatments and cribs
  • Bisphenol A is still being used in the production of hard plastics despite evidence that the substance has serious effects on the hormonal systems of those exposed to it
  • And the list goes on

There are also some unfortunate truths that we have to accept as consumers when it comes to our products. Manufacturers don’t intend to market hazardous products. In many cases, in electronics for example, our current technology requires the use of lead and other heavy metals to make the product function efficiently or as intended. Sometimes products are made with design flaws or inappropriate materials. Sometimes there’s a mistake or contamination at the factory. Sometimes the brand acting as the “manufacturer” has no oversight in how the factory in China is making the product. Sometimes it’s impossible to make the product without trace levels of a hazardous substance.

While all of this may seem overwhelming or frightening, panicking does not help. Getting angry at industry does not help. Beating people over the head with product safety reform does not help. What we need to do is concentrate on being aware of the issues and protecting our families the best way we can. For those of us in industry or working with governments, we need to stress the importance of actionable and realistic reform to make our products healthier.

As an aside, if you’re interested in seeing a list of products that have been found to contain high levels of toxic substances, check out HealthyStuff.org, which has posted testing results from numerous product categories including apparel, toys and vehicles.
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Consumer Electronics Crisis







Human Rights and Cell Phones: Something Every Consumer Should Know

Ever wonder what goes into making a cheap, throw-away cell phone? Nearly 30 percent of the minerals used to make electronics are dubbed “conflict minerals,” mined by children in a war-torn region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in mineral resources. The area is also rife with civil war with villages controlled by armed soldiers. Documented evidence shows massive human rights violations including the rape, mutilation and murder of innocent women and young girls; forced child labor; and the murder and torture of innocent men. This region is infamous for “child soldiers,” children compelled to join paramilitary groups at gunpoint.

Content Source: Bukisa - Human Rights and Cell Phones: Something Every Consumer Should Know

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