SOURCE: Ashland University

Ashland University

March 04, 2011 11:31 ET

Ashland University Chemistry Professor Study Confirms Inexpensive Jewelry Can Release High Levels of Dangerous Cadmium When Children Mouth or Swallow Items

ASHLAND, OH--(Marketwire - March 4, 2011) - Young children who mouth or swallow jewelry containing cadmium may be exposed to as much as 100 times the recommended maximum exposure limit for the toxic metal, according to research published online March 4 ahead of print in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).

The study, conducted by Dr. Jeffrey Weidenhamer, professor of chemistry at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, and three students, measured bioavailability, or how much cadmium leached out of the jewelry. The research also found that damaged pieces of jewelry in some cases leached up to 30 times more cadmium than undamaged pieces.

"Our hope is that the potential hazards of cadmium-laden jewelry will be taken seriously. While the bioavailability of cadmium from many items was low, the amounts of cadmium obtained from other items were extraordinarily high and clearly dangerous if these items were mouthed or swallowed by children," Weidenhamer said.

Cadmium, a heavy metal, can cause kidney, bone, lung and liver disease. Last year, in testing conducted for an Associated Press (AP) investigative report, Weidenhamer found high concentrations of the soft, whitish metal in inexpensive jewelry imported into the United States from China. The jewelry contamination represented a new avenue of cadmium exposure for children.

"It was a complete surprise to find such high amounts of cadmium -- up to 90 percent by weight -- in some of these jewelry items," Weidenhamer said of the AP investigation. "Given the toxicity of cadmium, information on its bioavailability was needed in order to evaluate the potential risks. That is what motivated [the EHP] study."

For the current study, Weidenhamer's team tested 69 cadmium-laden jewelry items, mostly charms and necklace pendants, many labeled for children and imported primarily from China. Most items sold for less than $5 each and were purchased in 2009 and 2010.

Of 34 pieces of jewelry tested under mouthing conditions, one piece (a football pendant) yielded 2,109 micrograms of cadmium -- more than 100 times the CPSC-recommended limit of 18 micrograms for maximum exposure through mouthing. Eight other pieces exceeded the 18-microgram limit.

Of 92 pieces of jewelry from 57 different jewelry items tested under ingestion conditions, two pieces (a football pendant and a heart charm) yielded more than 20,000 micrograms of cadmium, 100 times the CPSC-recommended maximum exposure of 200 micrograms through ingestion. Fourteen samples yielded more than 1,000 micrograms. The researchers found the amount of cadmium released increased linearly over time, indicating that the longer an item stays in a child's stomach, the greater the potential for harm.

"To think there are products on the shelf that you could pull thousands of micrograms of cadmium off by simple extractions like this is very concerning," Weidenhamer said.

The article "Bioavailability of Cadmium in Inexpensive Jewelry" is available March 4 free of charge at http://ehponline.org/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.1003011.

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