Chinese-Made Lead-Tainted Children’s Jewelry Still Sold in U.S.

Inspections by the Consumer Product Safety Commission of 85 pieces of jewelry collected since last fall from retailers and importers determined that 20 percent pose a potential poisoning hazard, the New York Times reports. Separate surveys by health officials or lead experts in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Maryland found even higher percentages.

In addition, unannounced federal inspections revealed that of the 17.9 million pieces of jewelry items pulled from the market since the start of 2005, 95 percent were made in China, the Times reports.

In total, the CPSC has issued 18 recalls of children’s jewelry containing lead, all of them were made in China, according to media reports.

The problem with the children’s jewelry has persisted even after a two-year effort by the federal government to eliminate the threat of poisonous lead in inexpensive children’s jewelry, the Times reports.

“The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been working with Chinese manufacturers as well as the Chinese government to make sure that they understand that there are rules, there are regulations and there are safety concerns that Chinese manufacturers need to abide by,” said Julie Vallese, of the CPSC.

Congress is threatening to take action, according to media reports. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., reintroduced a bill that would require the CPSC to ban any children’s product that contains more than trace amounts of lead, according to media reports. The CPSC also is proposing new rules.

The hazardous jewelry has been brought onto the market by big-name companies like Mattel, Juicy Couture, and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, which included 746,621 lead-contaminated “bonus charms” in a Shirley Temple movie package, the Times reports. But scores of small importers also delivered children’s jewelry to national retailers with dangerous levels of lead.

According to the Times report, the importers often assert that their contracts prohibit jewelry with elevated levels of lead. But by failing to test a large enough sample of the delivered goods—not just at the start of production, but regularly as new batches are produced—these companies still ended up selling hazardous products, the documents show.

Jewelry is perhaps the most dangerous place for lead because children can swallow an entire ring or pendant, causing acute poisoning, which can cause respiratory failure, seizures and even death, whereas neurological damage and learning deficiencies are often associated with exposure to lead paint, the Times reports. Many children also tend to suck on jewelry or put it in their mouths, allowing lead to be absorbed into their bloodstream.