May 20, 2010 in Business

Toxic metal common in Miley Cyrus line

Walmart stores pull jewelry items following positive cadmium testing
Justin Pritchard Associated Press
 
Associated Press photos photo

Ashland University chemistry professor Jeff Weidenhamer displays a hoop earring in his laboratory at the university in Ashland, Ohio, earlier this month. The earring, and a variety of other small bracelet charms and pendants that Weidenhamer has tested, were shown to contain the metal cadmium. Associated Press photos
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

LOS ANGELES – Walmart said Wednesday it is pulling an entire line of Miley Cyrus-brand necklaces and bracelets from its shelves after tests performed for the Associated Press found the jewelry contained high levels of the toxic metal cadmium.

In a statement issued three hours after AP’s initial report of its findings, Walmart said it would remove the jewelry, made exclusively for the world’s largest retailer, while it investigates. The statement was issued along with Cyrus and Max Azria, the designer who developed the jewelry for the 17-year-old “Hannah Montana” star.

Walmart had learned of cadmium in the Miley Cyrus jewelry, as well as in an unrelated line of bracelet charms, back in February, based on an earlier round of testing conducted at AP’s request, but had continued selling the items. It said as recently as last month that it would be too difficult to test products already on its shelves.

In its statement, Walmart did not say whether it would also remove the bracelet charms.

Exactly how many of the items have been sold was unclear. The charms – also available exclusively at Walmart stores – were sold under the name “Fashion Accessories,” though Walmart has not said when they began appearing on shelves. The Miley Cyrus jewelry hit stores in December.

Long-term exposure to cadmium can lead to bone softening and kidney failure. It is also a known carcinogen, and research suggests that it can, like lead, hinder brain development in the very young.

Cadmium in jewelry is not known to be dangerous if the items are simply worn. Concerns come when youngsters bite or suck on the jewelry, as many children are apt to do.

Walmart said that while the jewelry is not intended for children, “it is possible that a few younger consumers may seek it out in stores.”

“We are removing all of the jewelry from sale while we investigate its compliance with our children’s jewelry standard,” Walmart said.

That was a reference to a policy Walmart voluntarily implemented last month, under which suppliers are required to prove their products contain little cadmium or else Walmart would not accept them.

The company’s policy of not checking products already on the shelves appears to have changed: In its statement, Walmart said it reviewed children’s jewelry and pulled “the few products that did not” comply with its new testing regimen.

To judge the availability of pieces that Wal-Mart has known were contaminated, AP dispatched reporters throughout the country last month to search for and buy any of 13 items. Three of those were Miley Cyrus jewelry; the rest were from the line of bracelet charms. The packaging said they were made in China; all were bought for $6 or less.

All but one of the 13 were on store shelves in the eight states where AP reporters looked.

The items were then tested by Professor Jeff Weidenhamer, a chemist at Ashland University in Ohio. Of 61 samples, 59 contained at least 5 percent cadmium by weight, with 53 measuring 10 percent or higher.

Weidenhamer’s prior research has shown that the testing method he used – an X-ray gun that can roughly tell the amount of cadmium in an item – typically underestimates how much is present.

Representatives of the jewelry industry have argued that the presence of cadmium, even at high levels, is not by itself proof that an item is dangerous. The important thing, they say, is how much can escape if the item is sucked, bitten or swallowed.

Cadmium in children’s jewelry became a public concern in January when the AP published the results of an investigation that showed items at Walmarts and other large chains were as much as 91 percent of the toxic metal by weight. Lab testing conducted by Weidenhamer at AP’s request showed that several items easily shed the metal when exposed to a mixture that simulated human stomach acid.

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