Cadmium concerns: Health Canada introduces rules on cadmium levels in jewellery for children

Ottawa wants to crack down on the amount of toxic cadmium in children's jewellery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA – Jewellery manufactures are facing tougher rules meant to keep cadmium, a chemical associated with lung and kidney problems, out of the mouths of Canadian children.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq introduced new guidelines on Monday that outline how much cadmium can be used in children’s jewellery after testing in 2008 and 2009 showed industry was using the metal as a cheap substitute for lead.

The new guidelines require manufactures to keep the cadmium concentrations to less than 130 parts per million or 0.013 per cent.

The new standards will become official in October and then if high levels of cadmium are still found in children’s toys Health Canada will order them off the shelves using its new powers under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, which became law this summer.

Here’s what you need to know about cadmium:

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What is cadmium?

Cadmium is a malleable, bluish-white heavy metal known to be toxic when ingested.

What is it used for?

Health Canada found cadmium being used as a replacement for lead in cheap children’s jewellery. The metal is also used to prolong the life of plastics and prevent corrosion in metals, especially those used in marine and alkaline environments. The most common consumer use for cadmium is in batteries.

What are the health risks?

Health Canada justified its new industry guidelines citing scientific evidence that there are serious health risks associated with swallowing, sucking or chewing jewellery that contains high levels of cadmium. Specifically, studies show that ingesting large amounts of cadmium can cause kidney disease. Cadmium also damages the lungs if inhaled.

How are people exposed to cadmium?

Children can be exposed to cadmium through metal or plastic toys that contain traces of the metal. Cigarettes also contain high levels of the cadmium, as do some fertilizers.

What are other countries doing about it?

There have been several high profile product recalls due to cadmium contamination in the United States. After a 2010 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation, recalls were issued for jewellery sold by Claire’s and Wal-Mart. More recently, 12 million collectable “Shrek” drinking glasses were recalled due to concerns there could be cadmium in the paint pigments.


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