Cadmium in Children's Jewelry
An Associated Press (AP) news story reported that 12 of 103 (12%) pieces of jewelry purchased and tested by the AP in late 2009 contained at least 10% by weight of the metal cadmium. The tests were done on very inexpensive metal jewelry, the kind found in discount and dollar stores. Children can be exposed to cadmium by accidentally swallowing a piece of jewelry or by putting it in their mouth. Cadmium can cause severe health effects if absorbed into the body at high levels and cadmium stays in the body for a long time. It is important to avoid childhood exposure to cadmium in children's jewelry. There is no way to tell just by looking at a piece of jewelry if it contains cadmium. The best advice is to keep this kind of jewelry (inexpensive) away from children younger than six. If you have questions or concerns, contact your physician or call the NYS Department of Health at 518-402-7820 or 800-458-1158.
How are children exposed to cadmium in jewelry?
The greatest potential for exposure comes from swallowing a jewelry piece. However, exposure also occurs from repeated biting, sucking, or mouthing the jewelry piece or from frequent hand-to-mouth contact after handling a jewelry piece. These behaviors are common in children younger than six. The amount of exposure depends on how much cadmium is in the piece of jewelry, and how often and for how long a child bites, sucks, or mouths it. Just touching the jewelry is not a major source of exposure because almost no cadmium enters the body through the skin.
How can cadmium affect children?
Children and adults will have similar health effects if exposed to toxic levels of cadmium. Eating food or drinking water with very high cadmium levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea, and sometimes death. Eating lower levels of cadmium over a long period can lead to kidney damage, and can cause bones to become fragile and break easily. Exposure to cadmium in air has caused lung cancer, and perhaps prostate cancer, in workers. The US Department of Health and Human Services has determined that cadmium and cadmium compounds are known human carcinogens (can cause cancer).
What can I do to reduce the likelihood of cadmium exposure if my child has inexpensive metal jewelry?
Follow the advice of the Chairman of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):
"Do not allow young children to be given or to play with cheap metal jewelry, especially when they are unsupervised. We have proof that lead in children's jewelry is dangerous and was pervasive in the marketplace. To prevent young children from possibly being exposed to lead, cadmium or any other hazardous heavy metal, take the jewelry away."
For items already in homes, a CPSC spokesman said: "Parents should 'safely dispose' of the jewelry following state and local environmental laws (see below), and not resell it through online auctions or to a thrift store."
Jewelry containing cadmium that comes from households is not subject to state or federal hazardous waste disposal regulations; homeowners may dispose of unwanted jewelry with household trash. However, some communities offer household hazardous waste collection programs that may accept unwanted jewelry. This would be a preferable method of disposal. Contact your local recycling coordinator to determine if they will accept it (contact information is available on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8511.html). You should store the jewelry away from children until you have an opportunity to dispose of it.
How can I tell whether a piece of children's jewelry contains a high level of cadmium?
There is no way to determine by how it looks whether a piece of jewelry has a high level of cadmium in it.
Should I be concerned if we have this type of metal jewelry in the house?
Yes, you should follow the CPSC advice and take the jewelry away from young children (under 6 years of age). Cadmium stays in the body for a long time so it is best to prevent the exposure of young children to cadmium in jewelry.
Should I be concerned about past exposures of my children to this type of metal jewelry?
First, you should remember that your children could have jewelry that does not contain a high level of cadmium. Based on the tests that were discussed earlier, only 12% of the pieces of jewelry tested contained more than 10% cadmium.
Second, if in the past your child had swallowed a jewelry piece containing enough cadmium to irritate the stomach and cause vomiting and diarrhea, it would have happened within days.
Third, other factors should be considered to help determine your level of concern about the risk of excessive cadmium intake from past exposures to jewelry. Concern would be greater for children who, because of their characteristics (for example, age or developmental disorders), are more likely than other children to ingest, bite, suck or mouth jewelry pieces frequently. Other factors being equal, concern would be greater for younger children than for older children. Concern would also increase the greater the amount of jewelry your children have, the longer they have had it, and the more they wear it because all might influence the amount of past exposure if your children ingested, bit, sucked or mouthed jewelry pieces.
If you have questions regarding your children's potential exposure to cadmium in jewelry, contact the New York State Department of Health at 518-402-7820. If you are very concerned that your children may have had excessive past cadmium exposure from jewelry, you should share your concerns with your primary health care provider.
Where I can get more information?
Detailed information about the health effects of cadmium can be found in the Toxicological Profile for Cadmium (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp5.hhtml) of the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). For health care providers, ATSDR has also completed a Case Study in Environmental Medicine: Cadmium Toxicity (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/cadmium/index.html), which is designed to increase the primary care provider's knowledge of cadmium toxicity.