LOS ANGELES — The country's top product safety regulator warned parents and caretakers Wednesday to take cheap metal jewelry away from children out of concern they could be exposed to toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium.
Writing in a blog posted Wednesday evening, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission noted that children who chew, suck on or swallow a bracelet charm or necklace may be endangering their health.
"I have a message for parents, grandparents and caregivers: Do not allow young children to be given or to play with cheap metal jewelry, especially when they are unsupervised," wrote Inez Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. "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."
In making the recommendation, Tenenbaum cited an investigation by the Associated Press that reported high cadmium levels in items including bracelet charms from Walmart and Claire's stores. Lab tests conducted for the AP on 103 pieces of low-priced children's jewelry, nearly all exported from China, found 12 items with cadmium content above 10 percent of the total weight.
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Several of those shed high amounts of the metal when analyzed for how much of the toxin a child might be exposed to after swallowing the item.
Like lead, cadmium can hinder brain development in young children, according to recent research. It also causes cancer.
Tenenbaum said the agency is "actively investigating the jewelry cited in the recent AP story." She said the inquiry "is squarely focused on ensuring the safety of children."
Reaction to AP's investigation has been swift and sweeping.
Within hours of the release of the original story Sunday, the CPSC said it would investigate the highlighted items, among them charms that contained between 84 and 91 percent cadmium. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Claire's, an international accessories and jewelry chain with nearly 3,000 stores in North America and Europe, have since pulled items cited in the report from shelves.
In a recorded speech, Tenenbaum also admonished Asian manufacturers meeting in Hong Kong not to substitute cadmium or other heavy metals for lead, which effectively has been banned from children's jewelry and toys.
An official with China's product safety agency said it would examine the findings and several members of Congress have urged reforms in U.S. regulations.
In a written statement, an attorney representing the Fashion Jewelry Trade Association said the organization's members "have worked diligently over the past 18 months to comply with new lead standards and other new safety regulations" that were part of major legislation passed in 2008.
Earlier Wednesday, a senior U.S. senator unveiled legislation to ban cadmium and two other heavy metals from children's jewelry and toys.
"It is just despicable that a manufacturer anywhere, in this case in China, would use something that's known to be poisonous to children and put it in children's jewelry to save a few bucks," New York Democrat Charles Schumer told reporters outside a dollar store in Rochester, N.Y., that sold charm bracelets with high cadmium content.
Schumer plans to introduce the "Safe Kids' Jewelry Act" when Congress resumes session next week.
In issuing her warning, Tenenbaum said the agency is "working to take decisive action," using the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, "a law aimed at keeping kids safe from toxic chemicals and metals."
However, the CPSC has never pursued an enforcement action against a product based on that authority.