Even if a product is reformulated to eliminate contamination from lead, previous versions might remain on store shelves. That appears to have been the case based on what we found in our tests of some Kidorable raincoats with a bumblebee design and made of PVC plastic. That upscale garment is marketed for toddlers and preschoolers for $36. In December 2009 we purchased one raincoat at a New York area department store and another online through Amazon.com. We found lead levels that exceeded 1,000 ppm in most of the yellow parts of the coat that we tested, many times higher than the legal limit. And it's possible that some of that lead could be transferred to hands through repeated handling.
In January and May 2010 we purchased additional Kidorable bumblebee coats that carried labels saying "100% lead-free." Our tests showed that parts of those coats contained only low or trace levels of total lead, well below federal limits. Given the background levels of lead in the environment, it's nearly impossible for any product to live up to a "100% lead-free" claim, so finding those small amounts was not surprising.
Kidorable spokeswoman Christy Katzfey says the company reformulated its PVC products in late 2008 to comply with the new consumer product safety law and began using the lead-free labeling on its raincoats and backpacks in January 2009. In light of our findings, consumers shopping for Kidorable bumblebee raincoats should look for new coats with the "lead-free" label and take a pass on nonlabeled hand-me-downs or coats from yard sales.
Some assurances that products are lead free can be deceiving. Judy Braiman, president of Empire State Consumer Project, a nonprofit advocacy group in Rochester, N.Y., purchased a musical-note necklace at a local store in February 2010. The label accompanying the jewelry states that it is made in China and is "Lead Free." Yet testing showed the clasp on the necklace contained up to 912,000 ppm of total lead and that the pendant contained 288,000 ppm of cadmium. Those results came from the lab of Jeffrey Weidenhamer, a chemistry professor at Ashland University in Ohio, who alerted the CPSC. Weidenhamer said cadmium's presence in inexpensive jewelry is not new. He said his tests of more than 600 jewelry items from 2006 through May 2010 found almost 20 percent gave XRF readings of at least 10,000 ppm of cadmium.
Christine Canny, a Brooklyn entrepreneur who co-owns a jewelry business called FortuneKeeper that was launched in 2009, purchased beads and other components for her products from a Chinese supplier that marketed them as lead free. She had them tested at a lab and found beads that contained more than 235,000 ppm of lead. "We won't use the beads on our products, so they'll just sit in our office until we know how to safely get rid of them," Canny says. "Why is it so hard to make something that is safe?"