Low-cost jewelry may look good and save you money, but wearing it can come at a cost to the health of you or your children.
A recent investigation by The Ecology Center, a non-profit organization that advocates for a safe and healthy environment, found despite tougher regulations many pieces of costume jewelry still contain dangerous levels of chemicals including lead, cadmium and nickel.
Jewelry was tested in six states including Ohio, and 14 different retailers, including Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Big Lots, Claire's, Forever 21, Walmart and Kohls.
Ashland Professor Jeffrey Weidenhamer began testing certain types of jewelry as a class experiment. "Inexpensive metal jewelry, so it would be classified either as children's jewelry or costume jewelry," he said.
Weidenhamer originally thought he was simply looking for high levels of lead. The results surprised and unnerved him. "In our testing, what I found as the lead was being phased out, we saw more and more cadmium," he explained.
Cadmium is an inexpensive metal that can make jewelry shiny and sparkle. It's also toxic and has been the basis for several jewelry and toy recalls over the past several years.
Weidenhamer told Channel 3 that cadmium is actually more toxic than lead. If ingested, cadmium can bio-accumulate in the body throughout a lifetime in the kidney and bones. Metals like cadmium do not pose a risk by simply wearing them. But if they are consumed, they can be highly toxic or even deadly, because they are cheaply made, they can easily flake, or break.
During their testing, Weidenhamer and The Ecology Center found that of the 99 items analyzed, 59 percent tested high for a toxic chemical that could be harmful to anyone, but especially children. Even more disturbing, jewelry labeling was not always accurate.
Some of the items that tested high for lead, were actually labeled "lead-free". Weidenhamer showed us one pendant that claimed to be lead-free but was actually 95 percent lead.
The Ecology Center claims the Consumer Product Safety Commission was made aware of the dangers of both cadmium and lead in these products and didn't push for regulation. Instead they developed a voluntary standard, hoping manufacturers would regulate themselves.
"We're really encouraging manufacturers to step up and certify all products that they're selling to be safe for children", says Jeff Gearhart of The Ecology Center.
The pressure might be working. Both Disney and Walmart say they've stopped using harmful metals and changed label warnings.