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Consumer Reports’ tests find some items high in heavy metals are still on the market


Cell phone charm from Claire’s caused greatest concern

Consumer ReportsYonkers, NY — Consumer Reports’ latest tests of 30 children’s and household products found three items containing worrisome levels of heavy metals: A metal and rhinestone hair barrette with a high level of total cadmium, a cell-phone charm with lead levels so high it would be illegal if it were considered a children’s product, and samples of a popular children’s vinyl raincoat that were purchased in late 2009 and had parts that exceeded legal lead limits for children’s products. The raincoat was reformulated and labeled “100 % lead free” and CR’s tests of the newer version showed it contained only low or trace amounts of lead.

Four years after CR began routinely checking consumer products for heavy metals, and two years after sweeping rules sought to limit lead in children’s products, CR examined a variety of children’s products and household items that seemed likely to contain heavy metals, based on past recalls and the magazine’s previous tests. Of the more than 30 products CR tested using an initial screening method called X-Ray fluorescence (XRF), 14 showed relatively high levels. They were sent for further testing to an outside lab to determine total amounts of lead, cadmium, and mercury.

The green clover-shape cell-phone charm sold at the retailer Claire’s caused the greatest concern. The charms CR tested contained levels exceeding 100,000 parts per million (ppm) of total lead, above the Federal limit of 300-ppm which applies to all children’s products (items for children under age 13). Given those levels, a child who accidentally swallowed a charm could be at risk for lead poisoning. Although the charm is not marketed specifically to children 12 and under, it could appeal to that age group or it could be accessible to them if a parent or older child has one.

Samples of the Revlon Couture Hair Accessory Barrette made of metal, and decorated with rhinestones, tested positive for high levels of total cadmium, though potential for significant cadmium exposure through normal use is low. Even as companies intensify scrutiny of lead in products, cadmium, a carcinogen, is a newly recognized health threat in children’s products, and standards in the US are just being drafted.  The barrette is not marketed to children, but it could interest and be accessible to them.

Even if products are reformulated to comply with new limits on lead, previous versions might remain on store shelves. CR’s tests suggest this may have been the case with a $36 Kidorable bumblebee raincoat, marketed to toddlers and preschoolers. According to the company, the raincoat was reformulated in late 2008 to address contamination from lead.

But older versions of these raincoats were still available for sale in December 2009 when CR purchased two and found that they contained levels of lead many times higher than the legal limit in most of the yellow parts of the coat tested.

In January and May 2010, CR purchased additional Kidorable raincoats that carried labels saying “100% lead-free.” CR’s tests showed that parts of those coats contained only low or trace levels of total lead, well below federal limits.

“There is evidence that manufacturers and retailers are becoming more vigilant,” said Don Mays, Senior Director of Product Safety and Technical Policy, Consumer Reports. “But there are still some unsafe products in the market.”

The full report on heavy metals appears in the October issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale September 7th. The reports are also available to subscribers of

What lies ahead

Standards for lead are expected to tighten further in August 2011, when limits for total lead in children’s products drop to 100 ppm, if the Consumer Product Safety Commission determines it is technologically feasible to meet that more stringent standard. Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, urges the CPSC to develop a regulation for cadmium limits for all children’s products and believes that manufacturers, distributors, and retailers should thoroughly test for all heavy-metal concentrations before bringing products to market.

The limits on lead are well defined for children’s products, but lead and cadmium also should be regulated in products that can result in exposure via direct ingestion, such as cell-phone charms or garden hoses from which consumers might drink.

What you can do

  • Consider do-it-yourself test kits, which can be useful though limited screening tools. CR’s 2008 tests found that Homax Lead Check and Abotex Lead Inspector kits were somewhat reliable in detecting surface lead but were not good at detecting lead within a product.
  • Don’t allow children to have or play with cheap metal jewelry. If your children tend to put things in their mouths, add to that brass keys, barrettes, and charms.
  • Take an inventory of your children’s toys and check them against the recall list at, which has photos and descriptions of products recalled for lead or cadmium. Also check the list if you’re buying used items.
  • Don’t drink from garden hoses, which might contain lead that can leach into water. As a precaution, wash your hands immediately after handling power cords, extension cords, and even strings of holiday lights.




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