(AP) Federal consumer safety regulators on Friday announced the recall of “The Princess and The Frog” pendants sold at Walmart stores because of high levels of the toxic metal cadmium, an unprecedented action that reflects concerns of an emerging threat in children's jewelry.
The recall affects two products, about 55,000 items in total, sold exclusively by the world's biggest retailer for $5 each. The action was taken voluntarily by Rhode Island-based jewelry company FAF Inc., which did not respond to requests for comment.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which disclosed the recall, had been testing for cadmium in children's metal jewelry for several weeks in response to an Associated Press investigation that reported high levels of the known carcinogen in the Disney movie-themed pendants and other children's metal jewelry imported from China.
The Walt Disney Co. released a letter Friday it sent its vendors and licensees that sets a zero-tolerance policy for cadmium in any children's jewelry bearing its brand. That is far stricter than federal regulations, which not only don't require testing for cadmium in children's jewelry but also set no upper limit for how much a product can contain.
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Disney is now requiring that all products be tested for cadmium, and that a detection means production and distribution of the product should be stopped.
“Any detectable levels of cadmium will be deemed a product failure,” wrote Manuel G. Grace, Disney Co.’s senior vice president for product integrity.
In reaction to the AP's reporting earlier this month, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had pulled three items from its shelves, including the two recalled Friday – a crown pendant with UPC number 72783367144 and a frog pendant with UPC number 72783367147.
The items had been on sale at Walmart stores since November, in conjunction with release of the animated movie. Consumers can return the two recalled items to any Walmart store for a refund or replacement product.
On Friday, Wal-Mart said in a statement that it continues to actively participate in the CPSC investigation, and pointed out that it had taken “swift action” when it removed the cited items on Jan. 11.
“The items are currently being tested to see how we can responsibly manage and destroy them, and they will not be offered for sale anywhere,” the company said.
Two days after Wal-Mart pulled the items, the CPSC's chairman advised parents to throw away all pieces of inexpensive metal jewelry, noting that children who chew, suck on or swallow a bracelet charm or necklace may be endangering their health because cadmium or lead could leach out of the item and into the body. Cadmium that is ingested accumulates for years, potentially causing serious harm to the kidneys and bones. Recent research also suggests it can harm brain development in children.
Friday's recall marks the first time any consumer product has been recalled in the United States because of cadmium. To date, lead had been the focus – findings of high levels in jewelry and painted toys prompted a wave of recalls starting several years ago.
The CPSC said in a statement that there have been no reports of cadmium poisonings associated with the pendants but that its investigation into other pieces of jewelry “remains open and active.”
The Fashion Jewelry Trade Association, which includes FAF among its members, released a statement that emphasized the industry's concern for safety but also suggested cadmium contamination is not widespread.
“We are confident in the safety of our members' products,” said Michael Gale, executive director of the association. “Based on our members' own data, cadmium is not widely used as a substitute for lead in children's jewelry products.”
As part of the AP's original investigation, lab tests conducted on 103 pieces of low-priced children's jewelry found 12 items with cadmium content above 10 percent of the total weight. One item consisted of 91 percent cadmium by weight.
Pendants from four “The Princess and The Frog” necklaces ranged between 25 and 35 percent cadmium, according to the testing.
Disney said in a statement at the time that test results provided by FAF showed the item complied with all applicable safety standards. But in the case of cadmium, unlike lead, there have been no specific levels that would automatically trigger health risks to children or a push for a recall.
As part of its investigation, the CPSC bought pieces of the jewelry cited in the AP reports, tested them in the agency's lab and found high levels as well. Based on the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, agency staff determined that the items posed a health risk to children, according to agency spokesman Scott Wolfson. The agency then approached FAF, which cooperated with the investigation and agreed to the recall.