The California attorney general's office on Monday cited CVS/pharmacy and two Rainbow Apparel vendors for selling jewelry with illegal levels of lead. The items contained as much as 62 percent lead – more than 10 times the legal limit.
Last month, California Watch reported that the attorney general had repeatedly cited Rainbow Apparel, a national retailer with 35 stores in California, for selling jewelry with high levels of lead.
Center for Environmental HealthThe clasp of this necklace, sold at Rainbow Apparel, was 37 percent lead.
The state requires retailers to remove unlawful jewelry from its stores, and Rainbow has continually pledged to stop selling lead-tainted items. But California Watch found that items that should have been pulled have slipped through the cracks.
"Rainbow has represented that it's removing all these products from their shelves," said Jim Finefrock, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. "So the fact that (these items were) found at a Rainbow store is inconsistent with what Rainbow is telling us, and we're going to find out what happened."
Although the state has measures in place to penalize repeat offenders, Rainbow's violations have not been enough to warrant a fine. Monday's violation notice is the sixth time in 18 months that jewelry sold at Rainbow has been the subject of a state citation.
The notice concerns three items sold at Rainbow's store in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles. The Center for Environmental Health, an Oakland nonprofit that routinely tests jewelry for consumers and the state, purchased the following items at the store's clearance rack on Sept. 25:
Center for Environmental HealthThe clasp of this necklace was 36 percent lead.
The violations were directed at Rainbow's vendors – Shalom International Corp. and Royal Items, Inc., both of New York – because, like Rainbow, they are part of a 2006 settlement with the attorney general that set strict lead standards.
The state has previously cited Rainbow for jewelry from both vendors. The repeated violations prompted Rainbow to begin screening some items for lead – specifically those from vendors identified in citations, including Royal.
In July, Royal said "that it had testing showing its products were in compliance," and assured the retailer it would test items before shipping them, said Jeffrey Margulies, an attorney for Rainbow and partner at Fulbright & Jaworski in Los Angeles.
Margulies said Rainbow was investigating the items in Monday's violation notice. It is not yet known whether they were purchased before or after the companies began screening their orders for lead.
Center for Environmental HealthThe yellow paint on these earrings was more than 48 times the state's limit for lead.
I contacted Royal Items on Tuesday at a phone number provided by Rainbow. A man said "Royal Items" when he picked up the phone. But when I identified myself as a reporter and said I was calling about Monday's violation notice, he said, "Who is Royal Items? We're not Royal Items," and hung up.
I then called Royal Deluxe Accessories, which is listed with Royal Items as a vendor for Rainbow. When I asked if I was speaking with either company, the man who answered said no.
[Updated Thursday at 9:18 p.m.: Margulies said the items in Monday's violation notice were purchased between January and April – before the companies began screening their orders for lead. Over the summer, Rainbow pulled Royal products cited by the state, as well as items that looked similar.
Royal "strongly objected" to removing jewelry that had not been cited, "claiming that it had tested its products for lead and that Rainbow should have no reason to be concerned," Margulies said.
Rainbow no longer orders from Royal because of its "noncompliant products and lack of cooperation, among other things," he said.]
Since May 2009, the state has found 28 items in violation of state and federal lead limits at Rainbow stores. Rainbow is by far the state's worst offender – a position formerly held by Longs Drugs Stores, which had 14 violations when CVS acquired it two years ago.
When the Longs stores became CVS, they stopped selling jewelry as part of their "conversion process," said Michael DeAngelis, director of public relations for CVS.
The Center for Environmental Health continued to test the stores' jewelry, mostly in the form of hair accessories, said Caroline Cox, the center's research director. But it was not until Monday's notice – concerning a jeweled cross pendant on a metallic necklace – that any violations were found.
A lab test revealed the necklace's clasp was 57 percent lead; the cross was 62 percent lead.
Center for Environmental HealthThis cross pendant was 62 percent lead. The clasp of the necklace was 57 percent lead.
"It's one of the worst jewelry violations I've seen while we've been doing this project," Cox said. "It's a high lead content in the pendant, which is a cross. I know that a lot of people will do things like kiss the cross."
Lead can quickly spread through the bloodstream when it's in jewelry that is swallowed or chewed on. At high levels, it can severely damage the brain and kidneys, and cause reproductive problems and even death.
DeAngelis said CVS, which operates 819 stores in the state, had not yet had the opportunity to review Monday's violation notice. However, he said the retailer is committed to complying with state regulations and "will take the appropriate steps in this matter."
The necklace was purchased at a CVS store in Los Angeles' Pacific Palisades, which DeAngelis said "opened before our acquisition of Longs so was not part of the conversion process."
"I'm looking into which non-Longs stores in (California) may carry some jewelry. At this time we cannot comment beyond the Pacific Palisades store," he wrote in an e-mail.
The majority of jewelry sold in California today meets state and federal standards. Tests by the Center for Environmental Health last year found 96 percent compliance.
Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, authored California's lead-in-jewelry law in 2006. Asked whether the law was effectively policing repeat offenders like Rainbow, she said in an e-mail: "I am always monitoring past legislation to ensure it is having the desired effect. I will take a closer look at whether vendors and retailers are being held accountable."
Pavley added that she would like retailers to voluntarily test their products. The law does not mandate jewelry testing. Instead, it requires manufacturers or vendors to display certification of compliance on jewelry shipments or packaging, or provide it if requested.
"Most companies, we send a notice and things do get better," Deputy Attorney General Harrison Pollak said in California Watch's report last month. "With Rainbow, it's been a little more difficult."
On Tuesday, Finefrock, of the attorney general's office, said his office "will continue to be vigilant and work with them."