California sues 13 retailers over jewelry containing lead

California sued 13 major retailers Wednesday, alleging they broke state law by failing to warn customers some of the jewelry they sell contains lead, The Associated Press reports. Private lawsuits with similar allegations were filed against another 11 retailers.

Named in the state’s suit, filed in Sacramento, were Macy’s, Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Mervyn’s, Nordstrom, Ross, Sears, Express, Claire’s, Toys “R” Us, and Burlington Coat Factory, along with some of their affiliates and parent companies, the AP reports.

State tests showed high levels of lead in both the metal and nonmetal parts of costume jewelry the retailers market primarily to teenagers and younger children, Attorney General Bill Lockyer reportedly alleged in the suit. The levels were “well above” that which requires a warning to consumers under California law, he alleged.

Jeffrey Margulies, a lawyer representing six of the retailers, reportedly said his clients are concerned they are the targets of lawsuits aimed at products they don’t manufacture and are trying to cooperate with Lockyer to determine which specific products are a problem and what can be done.

“As retailers, obviously the companies are deeply concerned about the welfare of their customers, but they are not currently aware of any hazard posed by the jewelry,” Margulies reportedly said.

The jewelry is sold under brand names including Nine West (Macy’s), Orion (Burlington), Claire’s, Worthington (J. C. Penney), Juststyle (Kmart), Thalia (Kmart), Nadri (Nordstrom), Eitenne V (Nordstrom), Apostrophe (Sears), Mainframe (Sears), No Boundaries (Wal-Mart), French Laundry (Mervyn’s), and Xhilaration (Target).

Lockyer’s suit was spurred by the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health, which said it planned to sue 43 retailers for inadequate lead warnings, the AP reports. State law requires the attorney general and county prosecutors must first decline to act before a private lawsuit can be filed.

The center joined in the state’s lawsuits, and filed its own additional Unfair Competition Law suits against 11 other retailers.

The jewelry includes necklaces made with plastic cords and metal jewelry made with low-grade tin, both containing lead, the center reportedly said.

Lockyer reportedly alleged the companies violated Proposition 65, a 1986 initiative that requires businesses to provide “clear and reasonable” warnings when they expose people to substances known by the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm. The state listed lead as harmful under both categories beginning a year after voters approved the proposition.

The suit reportedly asks a judge to prohibit the stores from selling the jewelry in California without providing the required warning about lead exposure, and asks for civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation.