Despite the furor over radiation treatments for blue topaz, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission probably won’t ask jewelers to pull the gemstone from their shelves, a spokesman says. “We are not requesting the industry to take any action at this point,” says David McIntyre, NRC public affairs officer. “We are confident that the industry is broadly informed of this issue through the trade press and efforts of industry groups such as the JVC.”
Virtually none of the thousands of carats of irradiated blue topaz currently on the market have been tested by a licensed U.S. facility for residual radioactivity—a violation of NRC regulations. But so far there is no major case for concern.
“From our initial field data, there is no indication of a public health and safety issue with gems currently on the market,” says McIntyre.
Don Elliot, commercial claims manager for Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., in Neenah, Wis., says it has not seen any claims arising from unhealthy radiation levels from blue topaz.
Even so, NRC regulations require all irradiated blue topaz to be tested for radioactivity by a licensed U.S. facility. However, there are currently no licensed facilities, meaning jewelers who sell irradiated blue topaz are not in compliance with current regulations.
“There is no effective difference between a law and a regulation,” notes Cecilia Gardner, CEO and general counsel for Jewelers Vigilance Committee in New York. “Regulations often are used to implement laws. Noncompliance is just that—failure to comply with laws, regulations, or enforceable standards.”
But retailers can breathe somewhat easily. “The NRC has stated more than once that they have no intention of instituting enforcement actions against retailers,” says Gardner. “This does not address whether these gemstones are in the country in full compliance with the law.”
McIntyre says the NRC is still trying to determine if violations occurred. “We can say, however, that based on surveys we have conducted in New York City following the July 26 meeting and survey data we have received from the industry, that we have no indication of a public health and safety issue concerning stones now on the market,” he notes. “The NRC is still very much in an information-gathering mode. We don’t have sufficient information at this time to say whether any particular stone might be illegal.”