New California Law Creates Strictest Lead and Cadmium Limits in Jewelry in U.S.

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For Immediate Release: 
Monday, September 30, 2019

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law bipartisan legislation to protect Californians, especially children, from jewelry tainted with highly toxic heavy metals into law. SB 647 imposes the nation’s strictest limits on the amount of lead and cadmium allowed in jewelry sold in California.

“There is no safe level of lead exposure, and even low blood lead levels can cause children to have learning and behavioral problems,” said Susan Little, senior advocate for California government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. “This new law is designed to protect women and children from exposure to toxic metals, reducing the allowable levels of lead and cadmium in jewelry, and sets an example of leadership for the entire country.”

The primary path of exposure to lead and cadmium is ingestion. Exposure to these toxic metals can lead to brain damage, delayed puberty, reproductive harm and increased risk of cancer. Lead and cadmium in jewelry are particularly dangerous for children, who tend to put things in their mouths.

“I want to see a California where all children thrive and health justice is part of that mission,” said State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), the author of the law. “We had to take a harder stance and elevate California’s cadmium and lead jewelry law because the damage these toxins have on our bodies and environment is irreversible.”

The bill was cosponsored by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Environmental Working Group and the Center for Environmental Health.

The new law lowers lead limits for jewelry marketed to adults and older teens from as much as 60,000 parts per million, or ppm, to 500 ppm. It would also lower, from as much as 600 ppm to 100 ppm, the allowable lead level in jewelry used by children. It also applies the standard for children to children aged 14 and under, instead of the current six years and under.

“Parents are well aware that their little ones often rummage through jewelry boxes and wear the jewelry they find,” said Little. “By greatly reducing the allowable levels of lead and cadmium in all jewelry – whether intended for adult or child use – we will reduce children’s access to lead in their homes.”

The state Department of Public Health says metal jewelry is a common cause of lead poisoning.

California has the fifth-largest economy in the world, so manufacturers often change production standards to comply with California law, meaning that the new state law could in effect create a new national standard. The federal government does not impose a lead limit on jewelry intended for people older than 12 years of age or restrict jewelry’s cadmium concentration.

The law will go into effect in January 2020.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.