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California Reaches Settlement That Will Significantly Reduce Lead Content in Costume Jewelry Primarily Sold to Children and Adolescents

Jan 31, 2006 | Newsinferno News Staff

For years it has been known that inexpensive costume jewelry often contains excessively high levels of the extremely toxic heavy metal, lead. Last year in fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) initiated its single largest, individual product recall that involved metal vending machine jewelry.

In December, the CPSC and Stravina Operating Co., LLC, of Chatsworth, California, announced a voluntarily recall of about 6 million children’s metal necklaces and zipper pulls. That metal jewelry contained high levels of accessible lead in the metal and/or the paint, posing a serious risk of lead poisoning to young children.

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that in elevated levels can lead to both neurological and developmental problems in children. Lead exposure usually occurs by ingestion, such as eating or putting objects into the mouth. Young children, therefore, are at a particularly high risk.
Teenagers have also been found to have severe adverse effects to lead exposure, including hearing loss, impaired growth, brain damage, and kidney damage.

In two other major recalls (September 2005) the CPSC, in cooperation with Dollar General Corp. of Goodlettsville, Tennessee, recalled some 455,000 Necklace and Earring Sets because the jewelry contained high levels of lead.

That same month the CPSC and Monogram International Inc., of Pinellas Park, Florida, recalled about 145,000 Disney Princess Bracelet Keyrings because of a high lead content.
Thus, the problem has been a very real and ongoing one and the people most at risk have been children and adolescents who are either attracted to the jewelry because it is a popular play item for children or because it is “trendy” and easily affordable by teenagers.

In an effort to stem the tide of these lead-laden products, the state of California has announced a settlement with 71 key U.S. retailers and distributors that requires a significant reduction in the levels of lead in this type of costume jewelry.

According to California’s crusading Attorney General, Bill Lockyer: “Today's landmark settlement is a success story showing how Proposition 65, California's premier right-to-know law, protects our families and communities from the health risks resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals in our environment. The power of the law is stimulating the costume jewelry industry to employ methods to reduce and eliminate lead from their products in order to avoid having to warn consumers about the health risks."

According to the settlement, defendants must meet new standards for lead-free and low-lead jewelry no later than 2008 or have their sales halted in the state.

Companies that entered the settlement include Burlington Coat Factory, CBI Distributing, Claire's Boutiques, Claire's Stores, Express, Federated Department Stores, J.C. Penney, KMart, Macy's West, Mervyn's, Nordstrom, Ross, Sears, Target, and Toys R Us. Remaining as litigants are Wal-Mart, Jordache, Cornerstone Apparel (Papaya stores), the Gerson Company, and Royal Items.

The lawsuit, which was filed in June 2004, charged that the named defendant-retailers had violated Proposition 65 by not properly warning consumers of the health risks posed by exposure to the lead contained in specified pieces of jewelry. The law requires retailers to warn consumers if they are at risk of exposure to known carcinogens or substances that may cause reproductive harm.

In December 2004, the retailers agreed to resolve the matter through mediation. As a result 38 jewelry distributors joined that mediation voluntarily and are a part of the settlement as well.

According to the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay a total of $1.7 million, including $100,000 in civil penalties; $250,000 for a jewelry testing fund; $325,000 for consumer education about the health risks from exposure to lead and other heavy metals; and the remainder in attorneys' fees.

Other companies can join in the settlement to avoid potential liability. The Center for Environmental Health and As You Sow joined Lockyer in the settlement.

Lead is listed under Proposition 65 as a substance that can cause birth defects and reproductive harm since 1987 and has been on the list of known carcinogens since 1992.

The analytical testing done by the state found levels of lead in both the metallic and non-metallic components of the jewelry in question that far exceeded the threshold level after which a Proposition 65 warning to consumers is required.

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