Is Our Toxic Electronic Waste Ending Up in Kids' Jewelry?

Congratulations to the new chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Inez Tannenbaum, for declaring that parents should throw away toy metal jewelry. That’s right, go up to your children and gently lift their of kiddie bling from their necks and wrists and toss it in the garbage – get it out of the house – it’s toxic waste. The issue is still China, but now a new culprit has emerged from that manufacturing giant. Instead of lead in toy jewelry, the whistle has been blown on another toxic heavy metal: cadmium. It appears that as lead levels in toys have been going down, cadmium may have been going up. Cadmium is highly toxic and affects bones, kidney function and is possibly carcinogenic if ingested. It can be poisonous, outright lethal, if large amounts are ingested. Children are particularly vulnerable. So what is this toxic element doing in kids’ jewelry?

Posted on | Gary Ginsberg, PhD | Comments ()

Congratulations to the new chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Inez Tannenbaum, for declaring that parents should throw away toy metal jewelry. That’s right, go up to your children and gently lift their of kiddie bling from their necks and wrists and toss it in the garbage – get it out of the house – it’s toxic waste. The issue is still China, but now a new culprit has emerged from that manufacturing giant. Instead of lead in toy jewelry, the whistle has been blown on another toxic heavy metal: cadmium. It appears that as lead levels in toys have been going down, cadmium may have been going up. Cadmium is highly toxic and affects bones, kidney function and is possibly carcinogenic if ingested. It can be poisonous, outright lethal, if large amounts are ingested. Children are particularly vulnerable.  So what is this toxic element doing in kids’ jewelry? 


Metal toys should have some weight to them – it makes them feel more valuable and real.  However, metals such as aluminum, iron and copper, while relatively non-toxic, cost money.  Metals like lead and cadmium are essentially free to toy makers – they are a waste product that would cost the electronics recycling industry in China money to dispose of. China gets barge loads of spent electronics from the US. Their makeshift salvage operation generates staggering amounts of toxic metals. While we have no direct evidence, it is certainly feasible that some of that hazardous waste ends up recycled into children’s toys – and now that US authorities are checking for lead – it appears they have switched over to cadmium in the cheap jewelry our kids are playing with. 


But thanks to recent Associated Press testing, cheap toy jewelry has been exposed as being a major source of cadmium. In a survey of over 100 pieces, 12% were found by AP to have high cadmium levels, enough to make a child very sick if swallowed. Based upon this news, the CPSC chief said to jettison all your metal toy jewelry – in other words, good luck to you if your kids have been playing with it till now, but the time has come to purge your house of the lead and cadmium and god knows what else China may have snuck into this jewelry. Whether its from electronic waste or not, it’s outrageous and one of the highest toxic issues around the home. It’s probably best to not let the real young ones play with jewelry of any kind – its too easy to swallow anyway.  Older kids – glass, porcelain or plastic beads may be the best.

Blog written by Gary Ginsberg, PhD
Dr. Ginsberg is a public health toxicologist whose research focuses on the unique susceptibilities of children to environmental...