What happened when the U.S. cracked down on Chinese imports of children's toys, jewelry and other items containing lead in 2008? Chinese manufacturers apparently just swapped out the lead for cadmium, another cheap, dangerous heavy metal.
While various government agencies and Congress debate what's to be done about the recent influx of children's jewelry containing cadmium, the presence of which was revealed by an Associated Press investigation released early this week, some major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Claire's, have summarily removed the goods from their shelves.
But what if you happen to have bought, say, a cadmium-containing charm and brought it home for your kid? How worried should you be, and what steps should you take now to protect your family?
I talked to John Rosen, chief of environmental sciences at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, New York, for some perspective on the danger. Here's what I learned from him:
- Very little is known about cadmium's potential health effects on children, Rosen says, because it's never been known to be a problem, "Pediatricians don't look for it, they aren't knowledgeable about it, and there are not any particular concerns about it." While Rosen says, "It's very good that [this issue] has come up and come out, I'm very doubtful" that much harm is likely to ensue. "If cadmium does have an effect on children through this route [exposure to cadmium-containing jewelry], it would be kidney disease," he says. But, he adds, this would constitute "virtually a new disease in American children."
- If harmful exposure were to occur, it would likely be the same way lead poisoning takes place: hand-to-mouth activity or sucking on or swallowing a contaminated object. (Among adults, exposure to cadmium occurs at manufacturing plants, where excessive exposure can cause cancer or kidney failure in that population.)
- While some news reports have stated that cadmium is more dangerous than lead and can "hinder brain development in the very young," Rosen says that cadmium "is not more dire than lead.... It's not known to have the effects that lead has on intellectual development." He says he knows of no credible research to the contrary.
So, if you have a shiny trinket you think may contain cadmium -- you can't tell by looking, but the Associated Press identified bracelet charms sold at Wal-Mart and Claire's and in Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" movie-themed pendants as culprits -- Rosen recommends you do two things:
Promptly return it and tell the store to monitor the items it sells in the United States more carefully.
And, for good measure,
I would just mention it at the next pediatrician visit and leave it at that.
So, while this is certainly no matter to pooh-pooh, and it's important for the government to take whatever steps it must to keep poisonous metals out of the marketplace, it doesn't sound like occasion to panic, either.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
January 14, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Environmental Toxins , Family Health
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