By  on January 13, 2010

WASHINGTON — The heavy metal cadmium may be the next frontier in product safety efforts.

After reports that independent testing found dangerous levels of cadmium in children’s jewelry, retailers began pulling products from shelves, and officials in China and the U.S. initiated investigations into use of the material. The developments may set the stage for another product safety debate similar to one last year that resulted in more restrictive rules against lead in consumer products. Heavy metals such as cadmium and lead are known to cause brain damage in children.

The increased scrutiny of cadmium use came after news reports about an independent investigation by the Associated Press that found high levels of the heavy metal in a sampling of products, including children’s jewelry. This prompted the Consumer Product Safety Commission to begin an investigation Monday.

In a speech recorded for a toy safety conference in Hong Kong this week, commission chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum warned manufacturers in China not to substitute cadmium or other harmful materials for lead in children’s products. The U.S. is in the midst of rolling out new, tough regulations against lead in consumer products.

“All of us should be committed to keeping hazardous or toxic levels of heavy metals out of surface coatings and substrates of toys and children’s products,” Tenenbaum said. “Voluntary efforts will only take us so far.”

Claire’s Stores Inc. said Tuesday it was halting sales of a charm bracelet identified as having possibly dangerous levels of cadmium “out of an abundance of caution.” Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said late Monday it would pull from shelves all products suspected of having potentially harmful levels of the heavy metal until the situation was resolved.

“The findings in this report are troubling, and as the world’s largest retailer we have a responsibility to take swift action,” Wal-Mart said.

The retailer said it would participate in the CPSC inquiry to “provide any assistance as they determine what the standards should be.”

China’s product safety agency said it will look into the cadmium allegations, according to news reports. State officials in New York and Connecticut also have called for action on cadmium in consumer products.

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