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Why should I be concerned about lead in jewelry?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the laws for lead in jewelry?
It's against the law in California to make, ship or sell jewelry that contains dangerous levels of lead. Children’s jewelry – defined as items designed or intended primarily for children age 12 or younger – is regulated under the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which limits lead to 300 parts per million, or 0.03 percent lead by weight. In California, though, there are restrictions for lead in all jewelry, not just items meant for children. Lead limits vary by material but are all less than 60,000 ppm, or 6 percent lead by weight. You can download a fact sheet [PDF] about California’s jewelry law from the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Why should I be concerned about lead in jewelry?
Long-term lead exposure can damage the nervous system and is especially hazardous for children. At high levels, the metal can severely damage the brain and kidneys, and cause reproductive problems and even death. The Environmental Protection Agency says lead is a probable human carcinogen. Although jewelry is not a leading source of lead exposure, dangerous amounts of the heavy metal can spread through the bloodstream if jewelry is swallowed or chewed on. You can be exposed to lead if, after handling jewelry with lead on its surface, you put your hands to your mouth or touch food that you eat. Health and safety advocates recommend keeping jewelry away from young children.

How can I tell whether my jewelry contains high levels of lead?
You cannot tell whether jewelry contains lead by its appearance, brand, retailer or price. The only way to determine whether your jewelry contains lead is to test it.

The Center for Environmental Health, an Oakland nonprofit that routinely tests jewelry, says high lead levels are often found among the following kinds of jewelry:

  • dull-looking metal
  • fake pearls with pearlescent coating
  • plastic or vinyl cords or bracelets
  • lobster-claw clasps

You can see samples of jewelry with high levels of lead online at the Center for Environmental Health and the Department of Toxic Substances Control. You can search the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for recalls of children’s jewelry. Searching for lead under hazard type yields the most comprehensive list.

How can I test my jewelry for lead?
You can screen jewelry for lead and other heavy metals by using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer. The screening is not as precise as a laboratory test but can accurately tell you whether your jewelry has high lead levels. The equipment costs thousands of dollars to buy or rent. But there are a few ways you can get your jewelry screened using the equipment for free:

California Watch is holding three free screenings that are open to the public:

Wednesday, Oct. 3
8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
De Colores Head Start at Fruitvale Village
1155 35th Ave., Oakland [MAP]
* Located next to the Fruitvale BART station

Sunday, Oct. 10
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Richmond Flea Market
716 W. Gertrude Ave., Richmond [MAP]

Thursday, Oct. 14
Noon to 6 p.m.
Nahui Ohlin
1511 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles [MAP]

The Center for Environmental Health offers screenings at its office from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday. It also accepts jewelry by mail. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want your jewelry returned to you. The center asks that you include information about where and when you purchased the jewelry and a copy of the receipt, if available. The center is at 2201 Broadway, Ste. 302, Oakland, CA, 94612. Questions may be directed to Ryan Nestle at ryan@ceh.org or 510.655-3900, ext. 310.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control sometimes hosts public screening events, but none are currently scheduled.

Home testing kits that use swabs to check for lead are generally not recommended for jewelry analysis. Lead in jewelry is often beneath the surface and difficult to swab, making it more likely that tests will produce false negatives.

To determine the exact quantity of lead in jewelry, an item must be analyzed in a lab. California law uses testing methods 3050B, 3051A, and 3052, as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The tests destroy jewelry so it cannot be recovered. The California Department of Public Health lists accredited labs here.

Where do I report jewelry with high levels of lead?

The Center for Environmental Health works with the state attorney general and other government agencies to report jewelry with high levels of lead. You can contact Ryan Nestle at the center at ryan@ceh.org or 510.655-3900, ext. 310.

Complaints about possible jewelry violations can be directed to the Department of Toxic Substances Control at leadinjewelry@dtsc.ca.gov or by calling 800.698-6942. You can also file a complaint online. Under “Complaint Related To” on the form, check “Toxic Substances” to make sure it reaches the department.

You can report jewelry with high levels of lead to the California attorney general’s Public Inquiry Unit at 916.322-3360.

You can report unsafe children’s jewelry at the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Lead poisoning symptoms are often absent or develop over time with chronic exposure. Common symptoms include stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and loss of appetite. Children may also have learning difficulties or behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity. The only way to know whether you or your child has lead poisoning is to get a blood test.

Where can I get tested for lead exposure?
Your health care provider can tell you more about lead tests. The state requires health care providers to screen children ages 1 and 2 who are in public programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. Children should also get tested if they live in or spend a lot of time in homes built before 1978 where lead paint may be present. You can also contact your local public health department or lead poisoning prevention program for more information.

I bought jewelry from Rainbow Apparel that has high levels of lead. What should I do?
Health and safety advocates recommend keeping jewelry away from young children. Rainbow will accept returns of any jewelry identified in a violation notice for a full refund if you have the receipt. If you do not have the receipt, Rainbow will refund your jewelry at the current or last selling price.

Helpful resources:
The Department of Toxic Substances Control has information about lead in jewelry on its website.

The Department of Public Health has information about the dangers of lead to children and lead poisoning prevention.

You can find data and information about lead exposure and prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Center for Environmental Health has information about lead in jewelry and a list of companies and brands that have agreed to California’s lead standards.

Key contacts
California Office of the Attorney General
Website: www.ag.ca.gov
Phone: 800.952-5225
Mail: Attorney General’s Office
California Department of Justice
Attn: Public Inquiry Unit
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550

Center for Environmental Health
Website: www.ceh.org
E-mail: www.ceh.org/index.php?option=com_contact&task=view&contact_id=2&Itemid=10
Phone: 510.655-3900
Mail: 2201 Broadway, Ste. 302
Oakland, CA 94612
Facebook: www.facebook.com/centerforenvironmentalhealth
Twitter: @4EnviroHealth

California Department of Toxic Substances Control
Website: www.dtsc.ca.gov
Phone: 800.728-6942
Mail: P.O. Box 806
Sacramento, CA 95812-0806
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Sacramento-CA/DTSC-The-Department-of-Toxic-Substances-Control/109412255835
Twitter: @enviro_squawk

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Website: www.cpsc.gov
E-mail: www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/info.aspx
Phone: 800.638-2772
Mail: 4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
En español: www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/spanish/spanish.html
Twitter: @OnSafety

California Department of Public Health
Website: www.cdph.ca.gov
E-mail: www.cdph.ca.gov/_layouts/dhs/sitecomments/default.aspx
Phone: 916.558-1784
Twitter: @CAPublicHealth

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Website: www.cdc.gov
E-mail: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Phone: 800.232-4636
Mail: 1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
En español: www.cdc.gov/spanish
Facebook: www.facebook.com/CDC
Twitter: @CDCgov

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Website: www.epa.gov
E-mail/Phone: List of contacts available at www.epa.gov/epahome/hotline.htm
En español: www.epa.gov/espanol
Facebook: www.facebook.com/EPA
Twitter: @epagov


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