In recent years, the European Commission has banned cadmium in all jewelry sold in Europe, but those shopping for low-cost jewelry in North America from popular fashion chains may be wearing products made with cadmium, a heavy metal that can be particularly toxic for kids.
There are no known risks for people who wear contaminated jewelry, but swallowing or chewing on a piece containing high concentrations of the toxic metal could allow it to seep into the body.
James Van Loon, director of risk management at Health Canada’s consumer product safety branch, says that children’s bodies more readily absorb the toxic metal, and because they are more likely to put things in their mouths, jewelry that is marketed to those under 15 should contain virtually no cadmium.
Dr. Gérald Zagury, who performed tests and has published several studies on heavy metals in jewelry, says one sample contained the highest amount of cadmium ever reported in Canada for such a product. “It’s pretty close to pure cadmium,” he says.
According to Health Canada, cadmium is cheap and melts at a lower point than more commonly used zinc, lowering energy costs for product makers. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, cadmium is a known carcinogen that can also lead to kidney failure, bone loss and other complications in those who are chronically exposed over time.