The Princess and the Poison
Fairy tales and cancer-causing chemicals don’t usually go together. But recent news brought a whole new story line to Disney’s latest movie when high levels of toxic cadmium were found in movie-related kids’ jewelry. WTC's staff scientist explains why cadmium standards for children's products are lax and what Washington state could do about it.
Fairy tales and cancer-causing chemicals don’t usually go together. But recent news brought a whole new story line to Disney’s latest movie, The Princess and the Frog, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission found high levels of toxic cadmium in movie-related kids’ jewelry.
We’re not talking parts per billion here. Or parts per million. No, the adorable crown and frog necklaces, packaged in purple crown boxes, are actually 25-35% cadmium.
WTC found plenty of cancer-causing cadmium, along with lead, when we were testing toys and jewelry with our XRF analyzer. Federal law has new limits on lead, but companies are still using cadmium to make cheapo jewelry feel substantial.
Feel like this is just one big game of whack-a-mole? Well, one Washington state program aims to get at the problem of toxics in toys and other children’s products in a more systematic way. Last week, the Department of Ecology launched a program to get companies that make children’s products to—hold on to your hats—tell us what toxic chemicals are in them. That’s right, companies that use any of 66 chemicals identified by the state as toxic will have to fess up and disclose what chemicals they’re using and how much.
This is a good thing for two reasons. First, of course companies should be telling us when they put poisons in their puzzles. But this list of 66 also will serve as a guide for companies on what not to use—kind of an anti-menu. Ecology’s new program has every potential to bring the safety of kids’ products to a whole new level in Washington.
The list is a veritable ABCs of poisons, from arsenic to bisphenol A to cobalt. It includes toxic flame retardants, hormone disrupting chemicals, and more. But a few chemicals are notable in their absence: Ecology failed to include lead, cadmium, and phthalates, chemicals that can impact learning, cause cancer, and affect reproduction.
That’s because the agency thinks that federal law passed in 2008 prevents them from requiring reporting on these chemicals.
We disagree. These new recalls on cadmium-contaminated crowns are purely voluntary, because federal law doesn’t actually regulate the level of cadmium in children’s products if it’s anywhere but in surface paint. Cadmium in jewelry doesn’t count. CPSC Chairwoman Tenenbaum announced her solution in January—parents should throw away all of their children’s cheap metal jewelry. Somehow, it seems like a more thoughtful approach is in order.
Ecology, you’re off to a great start, but let’s make sure we cover all our bases so we can stop throwing our kids’ toys in the trash.