It’s been months since the last hailstorm of children’s product recalls due to lead contamination. For the past few years it seemed like lead was being detected in everything and those recalls would never end. With the exception of a few food recalls recently, the prevalence of lead-related product recalls have subsided. The U.S.’s safety measures appear to be working.
But just when we all thought we could let our guard down, there is a new threat in town, that is just as dangerous to your young child as lead, called cadmium. What’s worse is federal guidelines for this new toxic metal are practically non-existent since new Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards require manufacturers to determine cadmium exposure threat using an overly complicated – and objective – testing method.
Cadmium is extremely toxic even in low concentrations, and like lead, accumulates over time in the body. Only a small amount of cadmium is excreted from the body over time. According to the CSPC
“A key consideration in the toxicology of cadmium is that once absorption of cadmium occurs, it remains in the body, particularly in the kidneys and liver, for many years. Given the very long half-life of cadmium in the body, exposures that occur from swallowing an object or from mouthing an object over time could have significant impacts on the overall exposure to cadmium from all sources and contribute to the risk of adverse health effects from cadmium exposures.”
Cadmium is a known carcinogen that is a by-product of refining metals such as lead, copper and zinc. Specifically, cadmium is created when we ship our computers, cell phones and other electronics to China to ‘recycle.’ The electronic parts get melted down and one of the by-products is cadmium, which is then used to create inexpensive jewelry, pigments used in toys and other products, and as a stabilizer in plastics. And guess where all those inexpensive items get shipped? That’s right, those products ultimately get imported back into the U.S., and other countries.
Existing federal standards for cadmium in children’s products covers cadmium found in paint in children’s toys. However, most of the cadmium that has been detected thus far in the U.S. is used as an alloy in children’s jewelry.* Last month the CPSC asked ASTM International to enlarge what’s in the toy safety standards so that it covers metal parts as well as paints. But, the CPSC has asked that the new safety standard be based on a complicated testing process whereby the toy manufacturer has to soak the toy in a solution that’s meant to mimic the inside of a child’s stomach, and then measure how much cadmium is leaked. The simplest way to measure cadmium is how lead is measured – setting strict limits on total lead content. Current lead safety standards require that no children’s product can contain more than 300ppm of lead.
In the October 2010 issue of Consumer Reports, the research company tested a variety of children’s products and household items for heavy metals (lead, cadmium and mercury). And what they found was very alarming. Out of the 30 products they tested using an X-ray fluorescence technology, 14 showed “relatively high levels.” One of the products tested, a Revlon Couture Hair Accessory, made out of metal and rhinestones, contained cadmium at levels as high as 293,000 ppm (almost 1,000 times what’s considered the “safe” level for lead)! In other words, if a young child, say a younger sibling, put the hair barrette in their mouth, they could end up with cadmium poisoning. And if the child accidentally swallowed the hair accessory, the child is at risk of serious health consequences, perhaps even death.
Caroline Cox, Research Director of the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), leads the research to identify and analyze toxic exposure threats to children and others exposed to dangerous chemicals in consumer products. During a recent phone call with Cox, she said
“California passed a law that sets a limit of 300ppm for cadmium to match the lead standard. We’re really pleased about that and think that this will impact more than just California. Hopefully that will be helpful for the rest of the country.”
So there is hope that the rest of the country will follow California’s lead regarding strict cadmium safety standards. But why isn’t the CPSC taking a harsher stance on Cadmium, given the “threat level” of this dangerous toxic metal?
Let us know what you think about the CPSC’s stance on cadmium – please leave us a comment!
*It’s important to note that although the U.S. has not yet detected cadmium in imported plastic toys, it’s possible that cadmium could show up in plastics since it is often used as a stabilizer during the manufacturing process.
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