LOS ANGELES – Major national retailers, including Target Corp. and Gap Inc., have agreed to all but eliminate the toxic metal cadmium in jewelry and other accessories they sell.
Starting in 2012, jewelry sold at the stores in California must contain less than 0.03 percent cadmium – a soft, whitish metal that in high enough amounts can cause cancer and other harm. Because of the size of California’s market, that effectively becomes a national limit – though it doesn’t carry the force of law in other states.
Five states have passed legislation limiting cadmium in jewelry, but typically they apply to items intended for kids, who are especially vulnerable to poisoning.
The new legal agreement, approved by a California judge Friday, applies to children’s and adult jewelry. It is between the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health and 26 retailers and suppliers, also among them Aeropostale, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Claire’s, an international jewelry and accessories chain store.
The state laws and lawsuits followed an Associated Press investigation that last year revealed some Chinese jewelry manufacturers were substituting cadmium for lead, which Congress effectively banned due to its own hazards.
Settlement negotiations began last year, after the CEH filed notices under California’s Proposition 65, a law intended to keep potentially hazardous materials away from the public. Those filings effectively forced the firms to the table.
While states and companies have announced binding safety levels based on laws and settlements, federal regulators are relying on the work of a private-sector group called ASTM International, which sets voluntary industry safety standards for everything from medical products to toys.
That process is wrapping up in mid-September, according to the leader of the ASTM subcommittee working on cadmium in jewelry. The standard will have an initial screening level of 0.03 percent cadmium – if a piece of jewelry fails, it will be subjected to a test that determines how much would leach out if it is licked or swallowed.