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Cadmium in jewelry manufacturing


#1

Cadmium is a lot like lead. More toxic and also more expensive. It is
bad stuff for jewelry. There were some alarming stories in the news a
year or so ago about cheap children’s jewelry from China being sold
at certain large retailers that are the usual targets of indignant
consumer advocates.

Stephen Walker


#2

Cadmium is often a component of copper alloys. Unfortunately, it is
one of the more dangerous metals to which you might be exposed in
vapor/fumes or dust. You are most likely to encounter it when you use
scrap metal such as you might find in a junk yard or scrap metal
source. It is also found in some galvanized coatings on steel.
Without protection, you should never heat cadmium containing brass
or bronze to the point of brazing/welding. The consequences can be
lethal. It is for this reason that I abandoned the use of scrap
metal in my foundry. Unless you have the expertise to do an analysis
of the composition of an unknown scrap metal as well as the
equipment and time, you are always at some risk. The workers at most
scrap yards have no idea what alloys of copper they are selling. The
risks are not only to your health but to your works as well. The
alloys of copper do not perform the same. It is better to buy
materials from sources that can be trusted to give you bronze or
brass whose alloyed components are known.

As to whether Cd is used in some jewelry from India, I consider it
likely.

It is also likely that some jewelry from New Jersey or Tennessee
(etc.) may contain Cd. As stated, Cd is toxic but whether a person
wearing a bracelet of Cd-containing brass would be harmed depends on
several factors. The first is the amount of Cd in the object. How
often and how long the object is worn would have an effect. Whether
the surface is bright or “corroded”, Obviously it should not be put
in the mouth or given to a child. Whether the skin is dry, wet or
coated with perspiration may affect whether it causes harm. Although
a person might wear such a piece of jewelry without not iceable
harm, harm is possible.

I hope this answers some of your question.
Gerald Vaughan


#3
I heard that cadmium is being used in china and india to make
jewelry. And that it is a toxic substance to have on the skin.
Does anyone have info. on this? 

The issue has been in the news off an on now for a couple years.
China, a believe, was the main offender.

The root of the problem is that much cheap jewelry is “white metal”,
the sort of thing that is cast in spin cast rubber molds, then
electroplated for the final finish. All sorts of things can be made
cheaply and in high volumes this way. Traditionally, the white metal
alloys used for this would be tin (pewter) based, or zinc based.
These are fine. Lead sometimes would be added, for lower cost, which
isn’t so good, but normally, when jewelry is being made with tin
based alloys, you’d use lead free versions.

However, in recent years, gold, silver, and platinum have not been
the only metals to see drastic rises in prices. Tin especially, but
zinc and lead too, have gone up in price, thus causing highly
competative and price concious manufacturers to look for
alternatives.

Cadmium is cheaper than tin, zinc, or lead. And, it’s alloys cast
really well and easily. As a casting metal, it’s common to see it
used in industrial products. If the chassis of the car radio in your
dashboard happens to be a die cast part made of mostly cadmium, there
is no problem. That’s a suitable use for the stuff.

But Cadmium is highly toxic. The issue has been regulated for
imports and products produced in the U.S. and elsewhere in the past,
however, commonly, the main addressed issues were the long time
traditional uses of Cadmium oxides as the pigment in a number of
traditional vibrant yellow and orange and red paints. Cadmium based
paint in general are bad news for consumer products, and especially
for anything having to do with children, who generally are more
sensative to toxic metals than adults, and more likely to be getting
it in their mouths. So while Chinese manufacturers were regulated
(forced, or they wouldn’t have bothered to comply) into not using
Cadmium based paints on Childrens toys and some other things,
Apparently nobody in the regulatory agencies thought to address and
write into the codes, any restriction on cadmium alloys used for
white metal jewelry. Perhaps they thought it unlikely that anyone
would be so unthinkingly irresponsible…

But as we know, the Chinese economy has gone through a great
expansion in recent decades, with business growth and business owners
doing anything they can to generate as high a profit as possible (a
business motive not restricted to China. Think of Enron, or BP oil,
and others) regardless of the human costs, little social
responsibility, just so long as they could figure out how to get
away with it.

But a certain (perhaps small) percentage of that Chinese industrial
community carries that social irresponsiblity to new heights. Even if
they know a product to be dangerous, perhaps harming their customers,
if they think they can get away with it, they’ll do it anyway. Thus
we saw melamine additives in pet food and milk products, even well
after the lethal problems with this practice became widely known.

In the case of Cadmium, those jewelry manufacturers knew it was
cheaper than the prior choices which had gone up in price, and since
there were apparently either no specific rules against using cadmium
in jewelry, they figured if it doesn’t have jail time attached, it
must be just fine to do (for some of them, even threat of jail time
doesn’t deter…) Thus we saw cadmium added to those white metal
castings both for adult aimed fashion jewelry, and for the stuff
made and aimed at children. It varied from small additions to
traditional alloys to lower the cost a little, all the way to alloys
almost entirely made of cadmium, to really lower the cost, no matter
what the health risks. And since importers didn’t know this was
happening, and nobody was actually testing the stuff, the
manufacturers were getting away with this and the product was making
it to market.

Independent consumer groups first detected the problem, and it’s
been in the news ever since. At this point, I don’t know if actual
governmental import rules now prohibit this use of cadmium, but the
major retail chains (places like Walmart, K-mart, Target, etc) became
aware of the issue as well as the really bad potential public
reaction, so they are now requireing the product to be cadmium free,
whether or not the feds are. How well this is working is up in the
air, since from here in the U.S. about all we can do to a shipment of
bad jewelry is refuse delivery or refuse to pay for it. From here, we
cannot take that factory manager out behind the courthouse and shoot
him/her the way the Chinese government itself did when some of that
tainted milk product killed a bunch of Chinese kids…

We’re told that currently, childrens jewelry is now safe and cadmium
free. Hopefully this is correct. But never underestimate the greed of
some people who think they can sneak a little trick into a product to
make just a little bit more money. Until effective inspection and
testing of imported products, and trade sanctions with real teeth are
involved, I’d guess the issue will remain, at least as a threat to be
aware of.

Peter Rowe


#4

I have to say that I seriously doubt that the chinese even knew there
was cadmium in some of their products. It was likely just a mas of
recycled scrap metal that was melted down and cast into little cheap
bobbles that were cheap. We had an instance in Canada where table
bases (like in restaurants) were bought from China and placed in a
restaurant. I forget exactly how this came to be known but eventually
they were found to be radio-active and many people who dined there
frequently for lunch found themselves worried about their
reproductive ability. Again, I doubt that it was a nefarious plot
as some suggest. Since health and safety of workers is not a high
priority in China, much of the stuff just was mixed together into a
mangled mess. And some of it had come from medial equipment. Just a
certain lack of care about their products combined with a lack of
care about their people – results in surprises. I realize that
sometimes people feel Leonid can be rather overpowering but this is
exactly what he preaches against – if we cannot trust the goldsmith
or the silversmith or the metalsmith to have ethics and to be
careful with their products, we have lost everything. Trust is
something that we take for granted often - until that trust is
broken. In a flash it is broken and it may take years to rebuild –
or it may never be rebuilt.

Barbara


#5

Interesting that this came up, because a neighbor arrived at my farm
with an 11 lb. piece of 14 gauge brass that had been ‘naturly
seasoned’ (his words–it had been outside in near the barn for about
4 years. He was going to take it to the recycler, but thought I could
use it. Apart from not being able to cut it easily, he took it to
another guy and they hacked off a 6x12 piece for me. I annealed it,
cut a few 2" strips, pickled it, rolled it down and tried a cuff with
it. It was a bit more difficult than the brass I got from Hagstoz or
Rio, and I realized that, and not being a metalurgist, there was
something different about this. The color, finish, feel, so…

I passed on it, because that next morning, this thread came up, and
I’m pretty sure that this was something used for kick plates on
doors, key plates, building installations or who knows what. Not
something I was comfortable working with. It could have been fine, I
don’t know, but at the price of metals, just wasn’t worth it.

Dinah


#6
We had an instance in Canada where table bases (like in
restaurants) were bought from China and placed in a restaurant. I
forget exactly how this came to be known but eventually they were
found to be radio-active and many people who dined there frequently
for lunch found themselves worried about their reproductive
ability. 

I believe this is a distortion of a true incident, however the
radioactive steel came from Mexico not China. It was due to a
hospital cobalt 60 radiation source ending up being dumped into a
scrap bin rather than being sent for proper recycling. Instead it was
sent to a steel mill and melted and cast into both rebar and table
bases and some other products. The error was found when some of the
rebar ended up on a truck headed into a US military facility and the
radiation detectors at the gate went off. Once they figured out what
was setting off the detector they back tracked it to the steel mill
and eventually found the source of the radiation.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#7

The Chinese knew exactly what they put in there silver jewelry.
Cadmium is a very shiny metal and carries through when put in
silver, the vapor point is less than 400C. highly toxic, (sorta like
arsenic) a little goes a long way. Walmart was one of the big
re-callers, my partner and I had the misfortune of trying to size a
ring with cadmium in it. The ring would not solder, it did however
shrink, wrinkled, looked really funky, like a balloon that has been
inflated and then deflated. Please don’t tell me they did not know
what they were doing, they are cheap and narcissistic but not stupid.
There is no excuse for this kind of mentality.


#8
It was a bit more difficult than the brass I got from Hagstoz or
Rio, and I realized that, and not being a metalurgist, there was
something different about this. 

Dinah, I’m just guessing, but maybe this was a piece of what I call
"standard brass" – about 80% Cu and 20% Zn, or something like this,
or maybe with 2% lead. Did it have a vaguely greenish look to it?
(Red brass is 85% Cu and 15% Zn, and melts at a somewhat higher
temperature.) But I’m just guessing.

Judy Bjorkman


#9
The Chinese knew exactly what they put in there silver jewelry. 

I have been following the cadmium issue right along and reading
everything I come across about it. This does not make me an expert,
but until I read this post by William I was unaware that there was
any suggestion that cadmium was showing up in silver jewelry. The
alarm that was in the media last year was about cadmium in
white-metal/base-metal alloys that are usually zinc and tin, but
sometimes also lead and cadmium.

So William, did you have the ring assayed or perform some kind of
scientific test to determine that cadmium was a factor? It is a very
serious thing to state as fact that someone knowingly added a toxic
element into personal jewelry. If you did an actual test, the obvious
follow-up question would be, was the ring an actual silver alloy, was
it marked “sterling” or “925"” If it was marked, was it actually
silver alloyed with cadmium or was it a fraudulent mark?

Thousands of people get these messages from Orchid. Your accusation
really should be supported by some evidence of why you believe what
you said to be true. Our industry doesn’t really benefit from “toxic
jewelry” rumors. Faulting foreign goods or competitors can come back
to hurt all of us.

We, as jewelers, have several things to worry about here. If cadmium
is really showing up in silver jewelry and causing the sort of
problem you describe, that is not going to be any fun. But there is
also the worry that if there is the perception that silver might
contain cadmium, that consumer-watchdogs could put us in the
position of having to prove a negative, that what we sell contains no
cadmium. I can say with absolute confidence that my silver and gold
contains no cadmium, but how can I prove it? When the
cadmium-in-kids-jewelry thing was news, there were politicians
proposing legislation about mandatory testing on imported children’s
jewelry. International trade agreements make it difficult to impose
requirements for imports which are not also local standards. So it is
not so very unlikely that accusations towards Chinese imports at
Walmart could create testing standards and certification requirements
that all of us have to deal with. That may sound a little
far-fetched, but a friend of mine who makes wooden toys was actually
considering going out of business because of the regulations
concerning his materials and paint. It was lead and cadmium paint on
toys from China that started the “awareness” that lead to his
problems.

Stephen Walker


#10
Walmart was one of the big re-callers, my partner and I had the
misfortune of trying to size a ring with cadmium in it. 

How do you know it had cadmimum in it? Did you have it analyzed?

The ring would not solder, it did however shrink, wrinkled, looked
really funky, like a balloon that has been inflated and then
deflated. 

It could have been any one of a number of plated whitemetal alloys
and acted exactly the same

Please don't tell me they did not know what they were doing, they
are cheap and narcissistic but not stupid. There is no excuse for
this kind of mentality. 

You have it backwards it is the American consumer more often than not
who is cheap and narcissistic. The Chinese sell us exactly what we
ask them to, If the buyer/importer wants cheap junk then the Chinese
will be happy to provide it. If they are required to supply high
quality goods then they will provide that as well. They have learned
the lessons of capitalism well, make your product as cheap as you can
for the market it is going to serve. It is up to us as consumers to
reject products that are too poorly made or dangerous, but as long as
our main criteria is how cheap an item is we will continue to get
poorly made and sometimes dangerous goods no matter where they are
produced.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#11

When I first applied for a job in a manufacturing jewellers the carat
wire used for chain manufacture was cored with solder that contained
cadmium. This suited the continuous proces for soldering chain but
made the bits that had failed inspection unusable as scrap for other
purposes. I still avoid melting chain for the very same reason.

Nick Royall


#12

Hi Judy

Did it have a vaguely greenish look to it? (Red brass is 85% Cu and
15% Zn, and melts at a somewhat higher temperature.) But I'm just
guessing. 

Yes, it was so green with verdigris I first thought it was copper,
but the edges showed brass.

Thanks, Dinah


#13

Would like to add that cadmium plating is still used for radio
chassis etc as it is more suitable than zinc galvanising. Still, your
radio is not supposed to come into prolonged contact with you.

Nick Royall


#14

Hi, Dinah,

Yes, it was so green with verdigris I first thought it was copper,
but the edges showed brass. 

Actually, I should have been clearer – by “greenish,” I meant the
look of the clean (but not polished) brass, compared to a piece of
clean red brass. Despite there only being about a 5% difference in
their copper content, I see a slight difference in the “color” of
the pieces, the “standard” brass being vaguely greenish, compared to
the reddish red brass. But it is very slight. When polished or
patinaed, such pieces would look identical in “color.”

Judy Bjorkman


#15
the carat wire used for chain manufacture was cored with solder
that contained cadmium. 

Does anyone know if this is still common practice? I often melt down
sterling chains with my scrap silver and will stop doing so if
cadmium use in sterling chain is common practice

Regards
Milt