Center for Environmental HealthThese necklaces, sold at Styles for Less, contained unlawful amounts of lead.
The state attorney general has slapped a Southern California-based retailer with 13 violations for selling jewelry containing unlawful amounts of lead, including a necklace labeled "lead-free."
More than half of the jewelry sold at Styles for Less had parts that were more than 80 percent lead. State law limits lead in adult jewelry to no more than 6 percent by weight, and federal law restricts lead to 0.03 percent lead by weight in children's jewelry.
Styles for Less, based in Santa Fe Springs, operates more than 125 stores for "juniors and misses" in California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida. Notified by California Watch of the violations, issued Tuesday, the retailer pledged to pull the lead-tainted jewelry from all its stores.
"It's unfortunate," said Augie DeAngelo, the retailer's executive vice president and CFO. "We're going to take every effort to get this product off the sales floor and pull it immediately. We've already actually started that."
The jewelry cited by the state was purchased in January at Styles for Less stores in Hayward and Fremont by the Center for Environmental Health, a nonprofit that investigates jewelry compliance under a state grant. DeAngelo said the jewelry was probably not offered at all stores, and that the retailer typically orders about 100 of each item.
Among the violations was a dark gray necklace with an antique-style portrait pendant. The ring connecting the pendant and necklace was 92 percent lead, according to lab tests commissioned by the center.
Another pendant, a large heart surrounding a cross, was labeled "lead-free," even though the cross was 78 percent lead. DeAngelo said the label was supplied by the item's vendor.
Center for Environmental HealthThe cross pendant of this necklace, labeled "lead-free," was 78 percent lead.
Long-term and high exposure to lead is toxic and potentially fatal. Children are especially vulnerable to the heavy metal, which can damage the nervous system, brain, kidneys and reproductive system.
"There is no excuse for these numerous, exceedingly high lead violations in Styles for Less jewelry," Caroline Cox, the center's research director, said in a statement. "Retailers need to make sure that their jewelry complies with state laws to protect Californians from hazardous lead exposure. Consumers expect Styles for Less to do better."
Tuesday's violation marks at least the third time since 2009 that the attorney general has cited Styles for Less for selling lead-tainted jewelry.
Styles for Less does not manufacture any of the jewelry it sells. DeAngelo said the company would address the violations with the jewelry's vendors and mandate that they comply with state and federal lead regulations.
The retailer took the same measures after previous violations and notified its 300-some vendors of their obligations to meet state and federal laws, including those for lead in jewelry, DeAngelo said.
"There's really not a lot we can do," he said. "It wouldn't make financial sense for us to actually test and measure how much lead and determine if it's acceptable or not."
California requires a jewelry manufacturer or supplier to display, or to provide upon request, certification that their products meet lead standards.
Asked whether Styles for Less had ever requested certification from its vendors, DeAngelo said, "We're the retailer. We're not required to do so. We've just put them all on notice that they have to."
A California Watch investigation last year found that jewelry often travels down a long supply chain before reaching store shelves, and that can cause murky accountability. Who certifies an item is often unclear. And vendors do not always notify suppliers further down the chain of lead violations, allowing toxic items to remain in circulation.
The difficulty of ensuring compliance may lead Styles for Less to reconsider its jewelry sales, DeAngelo said. Most of the retailer's merchandise is apparel; jewelry accounts for less than 10 percent of its products.
"It may not even make sense to sell this inexpensive costume jewelry in our stores," he said. "It's to the point now where it's not even worth it."