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Cadmium Making a Comeback? Investigation Finds it in Retailer’s Jewelry

— October 23, 2018

Cadmium Making a Comeback? Investigation Finds it in Retailer’s Jewelry

Jewelry that contains cadmium, a toxic metal, has been found in popular national retail outlets including Nordstrom Rack, Ross, and Papaya, according to an analysis performed for the Center for Environmental Health, a nonprofit agency.  Some of the retailer’s jewelry was made almost entirely of the metal, which can cause cancer and reproductive damage.  “Cadmium’s ability to cause cancer, kidney damage, and reproductive harm are well documented,” according to the center.

In 2010, an investigation discovered that Chinese manufacturers were using cadmium to make kids’ jewelry.  After the findings, some states outlawed the metal in retailer’s children’s sections, and testing performed by the Center for Environmental Health at the time showed it had nearly disappeared completely by 2012.  The center had stated at the time, “The goal of our legal work is to require the companies to meet strict standards that protect women and children from cadmium in jewelry.”

Unfortunately, it has made a comeback recently, an investigation into the matter revealed.  In 2017, lab testing found 31 adult jewelry items purchased from retail stores were at least 40 percent cadmium, and most were more than 90 percent.  California’s law allows no more than 0.03 percent cadmium in children’s jewelry.

Cadmium Making a Comeback? Investigation Finds it in Retailer's Jewelry
Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Cadmium is hazardous because, over time, it builds up in the body and can damage the kidneys and bones.  Most exposure happens by ingesting small amounts or by breathing it, most commonly through tobacco. Researchers also have documented some absorption through skin contact, as would be the case with jewelry containing the metal.

“Cadmium is bad,” said Michael Harbut, a doctor who teaches at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. “Given a choice between wearing something with cadmium in it, or wearing something without cadmium in it, I would take the product without cadmium.”

Caroline Cox, senior scientist at the center, added, “If you’re the person that buys and is wearing that jewelry, you don’t really care whether it’s a common problem or a rare problem.  You have a problem.”

Most of the tainted items were sold at Ross, which operates more than 1,400 stores in 38 states including Texas.  The retailer’s brands found with high cadmium levels included Vibe Sportswear and Tacera.  In a written statement, Ross said it is committed to protecting its customers and has “addressed this issue with our supplier.”  It did not indicate whether the suspect jewelry had been pulled from store shelves.

Papaya said it considers cadmium in its products a serious problem.  Steven Kim, an attorney representing Papaya, said the company has recalled all products where contamination was found and stopped buying from the manufacturer in China.  “Our manufacturers are required to represent and warrant that their products are in legal compliance,” Kim said. “Papaya is very strict and stops doing business with any manufacturer which fails to comply.”

Nordstrom spokesperson Emily Sterken said the company is “reaching out to these vendors to make them aware of the situation and get more information on these items.”

Under California’s Proposition 65, businesses must inform consumers about exposures to chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive harm.  The nonprofit has settled Proposition 65 claims against 36 companies, including Gap Inc. and Target Corp., which agreed to not sell jewelry with more than 0.03 percent cadmium.  However, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission did not mandate any cadmium limits.


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