From China with love? Don’t be mis-lead

Consumer Reports News: September 10, 2009 02:02 PM

Despite stricter testing requirements and tighter limits for the amount of lead permitted in children’s products, lead-laden items with kid appeal can still be found on store shelves. That's the finding of Jeffrey Weidenhamer, a chemistry professor at Ashland University in Ohio who is an expert in analytical chemistry. 
This summer, Weidenhamer tested “Patriot Pride” jewelry sets purchased in May at Flower Factory, a store in Mansfield, Ohio. Though the made-in-China pendant on the necklace pictured at right proclaims, “I love USA”, the metal, made primarily of lead, could expose a child to toxic lead levels if they mouth or accidentally ingest the pendant. Weidenhamer’s tests showed that the pendant’s total lead content was an astounding 861,000 parts per million. The limit imposed in February for total lead content in children’s products was 600 ppm, which was reduced further in August to 300 ppm.
That necklace and several other Patriot Pride jewelry sets Weidenhamer tested contain more than 80 percent lead by weight. Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled keychains sold at Walmart that had charms with a lower lead content after health officials reported elevated blood lead levels in a child who had been mouthing the keychain. More than a year before that recall, however, Weidenhamer reported to the CPSC test results of a similar keychain with charms containing 60 to 70 percent lead.  Such public-safety efforts prompted us to applaud Weidenhamer as one of our safety crusaders.

“Because of the new standards for lead in children’s products, you see a lot of products now with labels saying they’re not intended for use by children,” Weidenhamer says.  “But since there’s no age-related labeling like that on Patriot Pride jewelry sets and they only cost $1.50 or so, I’m concerned that kids are going to be harmed because their parents buy them these things assuming that they’re safe.  I worry about the cases that never are reported, where no one makes the connection between learning disabilities and a child’s exposure to lead in products that never are recalled.”

Lead_Jewelry_Model2 In June, Weidenhamer submitted lab test results of the Patriot Pride jewelry to the CPSC. He received an e-mail response in mid-July stating that the agency was reviewing the items to determine whether the jewelry “would be considered a children’s item.” In late August, the jewelry, was still being sold at Flower Factory. Weidenhamer has heard nothing further from the CPSC.

We contacted DM Merchandising, the U.S. distributor of Patriot Pride jewelry, last week. When we told the company of the lead-test results, purchasing director Myles Marks said his company had first purchased the products from Chinese suppliers in the U.S. in 2004 and that the last shipment of 12,000 items he accepted for distribution passed his company’s lead tests in September 2007. The product was discontinued after that, Marks says, so any Patriot Pride jewelry on store shelves now is older inventory, and some may have been produced before more-rigorous testing standards were imposed.  However, the new lead limits apply to all products currently on the market, not just those manufactured after the law was enacted.

“This jewelry is not necessarily a product intended for children but it is conceivable a child 12 or under could and would wear it,” Marks said.  Therefore, he said he will ask Flower Factory to return all Patriot Pride products to DM Merchandising and will contact other clients who may still have inventory for sale to notify them that the products may not be “lead-safe.”

Marks said that before products are shipped to his company from factories in China, they are tested for lead by a CPSC-approved independent testing facility. DM Merchandising also screens products for lead content when they arrive and has had to return or destroy some items that didn’t meet lead standards. He suspects some suppliers who claim to provide lead-safe raw materials to the Chinese factories later substitute cheaper material when the factory puts in subsequent orders.

Our Take:  To err on the side of caution, we advise parents to avoid buying or allowing young children to play with inexpensive metal jewelry. The risk of lead poisoning, which can cause irreversible brain damage, is too great a chance to take.— Andrea Rock

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