High Lead Content in Costume Jewelry

Some jewelry sold in many large stores might contain brain-damaging amounts of lead, a study finds.

Some jewelry your kids get from the nation’s largest retailers could cause brain damage and even wipe points from their IQ, researchers have found. A majority of bracelets, rings, necklaces and earrings bought from big chain stores leached enough lead to cause minor neurological damage with just 20 seconds of daily contact, according to a University of North Carolina at Asheville study that will be published next month in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. Most of the jewelry tested was aimed at children, researchers said. One ring leeched lead at 250 times the federal limit of daily exposure in children under age 3.

Sellers are not required to disclose the content of jewelry, but at least two chains have taken steps to reduce or eliminate lead items, including Nordstrom. Researchers say consumers have no way of telling which jewelry pieces could have dangerous lead levels. The biggest potential for high lead content is in items with a dull, antiqued finish. The pieces are sold at all types of stores, not just large chains. UNC-Asheville researchers recommend not buying lead jewelry – typically, items not touted as being made of gold, silver or platinum – until manufacturers reduce the amount of lead. “We hate to suggest a ban, but a lot of this jewelry is bad;” said Rick Maas, a UNC-Asheville environmental sciences professor who co-authored the study.

Excessive amounts of lead in the bloodstream can cause brain and nerve damage, particularly in small children. Jewelry industry officials are concerned that studies like this one will unnecessarily panic shoppers. “Too much of anything could hurt you; it’s possible you could eat too much broccoli and die from that” said Laurie Hudson, chief executive officer of Jewelry.com, a retail Web site.

UNC-Asheville researchers tested jewelry bought at 15 major retailers in California including Wal-Mart Target, Nordstrom and Claire’s. Researchers wiped the jewelry pieces for 20 seconds, estimating that was an average length of time a child would fiddle with a bracelet, necklace or ring each day. More lead entered the blood stream when children put their hands in their mouths or the pieces of jewelry A child’s IQ could be reduced by 2 points, Maas said, if the child were to rub jewelry that the government deems minimally hazardous for just 20 seconds a day for a month.