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
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