Cadmium in Jewelry Has Risks for Kids

Study Shows Children May Be Exposed to Excessive Amounts of Cadmium

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on March 04, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

March 4, 2011 -- Children who mouth or swallow certain children’s jewelry products may be exposed to 100 times the recommended maximum exposure limit for the toxic metal cadmium, according to a study.

Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued its first recall of children's jewelry due to high levels of cadmium last year, researchers say it wasn't clear how much of the metal the children would be exposed to under specific circumstances.

In their study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers measured the amount of cadmium that would potentially be ingested by children after mouthing or accidentally swallowing jewelry tainted with the metal.

They found potential cadmium exposure levels of up to 2,109 micrograms for mouthing one children's football pendant, which is well over 100 times the CPSC-recommended limit of 18 micrograms for mouthing.

“Our hope is that the potential hazards of cadmium-laden jewelry will be taken seriously. While the bioavailability of cadmium from many items was low, the amounts of cadmium obtained from other items were extraordinarily high and clearly dangerous if these items were mouthed or swallowed by children,” says researcher Jeffrey Weidenhamer of Ashland University in Ohio, in a news release.

Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that can cause kidney, bone, lung, and liver disease. Several studies have linked cadmium exposure to an increased risk of cancer. These studies do not prove cause and effect, however. The major sources of cadmium exposure in the general public are foods produced with cadmium-rich phosphate fertilizer and tobacco smoke.

Cadmium can accumulate in the body, and health officials recommend avoiding all sources of cadmium exposure to limit the negative health effects.

Cadmium in Children’s Jewelry

Researchers evaluated cadmium exposure levels for 69 pieces of jewelry with 101 different components, mostly charms and necklace pendants, tainted with the metal purchased in the U.S. since 2006. Most were marketed to children, imported from China, and cost less than $5.

Of the 34 pieces analyzed under simulated mouthing conditions, one piece yielded 2,109 micrograms of cadmium and eight other pieces exceeded the 18-microgram mouthing limit.

Of the 92 pieces tested under accidental swallowing conditions, two pieces produced more than 20,000 micrograms or 100 times the CPSC-recommended ingestion limit of 200 micrograms. Fourteen pieces produced cadmium exposure levels of more than 1,000 micrograms.

In addition, researchers found the amount of cadmium released increased the longer the item stayed in a child's stomach, raising the possibility for harm.

Since children often damage jewelry under normal use, researchers also conducted separate tests on jewelry in which the outer coating had been damaged. The results showed damaged items released more than 30 times as much cadmium as undamaged pieces.

In a message last year, CPSC officials urged parents and caregivers to not give or allow young children to play with cheap metal jewelry, especially when unsupervised.

WebMD Health News



Weidenhamer, J. Environmental Health Perspectives, published online March 4, 2011.

News release, Environmental Health Perspectives.

Consumer Product Safety Commission: "Guide for Parents: The Dangers of Heavy Metals in Children's Jewelry."

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