NEW YORK — In the wake of California’s Proposition 65, legislation is now being proposed in several other states to regulate the amount of lead in fashion jewelry.
Because it would be difficult to operate under multiple standards, a new industry organization called the Jewelry Fashion Trade Association was established in Rhode Island in April to address the issue. About 40 jewelry manufacturers have joined the group to date, but the executive director, Michael Gale, and other members say the intention is to grow to at least 200 or more companies.
JFTA’s primary goal is to create a uniform federal standard, said Gale.
“A manufacturer can’t make one product for California and another for Illinois. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible,” he explained.
More members would help the industry speak with one voice and be a boost financially, as addressing the various legislation in different states is “very expensive,” Gale added.
The other task is to look into the use of laboratory facilities so members can share the cost of product testing.
The potential health risks of lead in jewelry came to the forefront in 2004 when the Center for Environmental Health, a California watchdog group, sued a long list of retailers for selling jewelry containing dangerous amounts of lead. California’s Proposition 65, also known as the state’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, enables citizens to challenge the level of toxic chemicals in consumer products.
According to the CEH, exposure to lead can affect brain development and is particularly threatening to fetuses, infants and young children. Lead has been popular in fashion jewelry because of its low cost, but also for its heavy weight and how it flows through the casting process.
After the filing, the retailers sent notice to suppliers that jewelry products need to meet the California standards. To address the issue, 38 manufacturers banded together as the Joint Jewelry Defense Group. The organization hired a lawyer and, after months of negotiations, eventually all parties agreed to certain modified standards, which are now in effect in California. The JJDG has since dissolved, but with other challenges on the horizon, it paved the way for the creation of the FJTA.
In the last few months, New York, Illinois and Minnesota have proposed setting lead levels for jewelry. The city of Chicago is considering its own rules. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission are weighing in on the issue. And in addition to the oversight provided by Proposition 65, California has other legislation pending on the use of lead in consumer products.
Michael Green, executive director of the CEH, said he is pleased by the response of the jewelry industry to meet the specifications set forth by Proposition 65: “I feel they are all starting to [change the formulation of items to meet acceptable standards]. I feel the industry as a whole is on board.”
Under Proposition 65, children’s jewelry must not contain more than 600 parts of lead per million.
Stephan Ruben, president of Stephan & Co., said his firm has already modified lead content to be in compliance. Zinc, tin and brass are some materials being used instead. The rules have had a sweeping impact on the industry. Manufacturers now have to set new requirements for each component supplier.
To make sure that jewelry is in compliance, product testing, at least on a random basis, is necessary. It also takes longer now to bring an item to market.
“You can’t really begin production until everything has come back from the lab with positive test results,” said Ruben.
The cost of testing will have a bigger impact than new materials, predicted Ruben, who said he expects prices may rise as a result; an earring that wholesales for $3 might be $3.25, although Stephan & Co. is currently absorbing the cost.
Joel Fivis, executive vice president of Carolee, said his company’s products are all in compliance with the first set of regulations. While it has not had to reformulate any, it has already spent “tens of thousands of dollars on testing.”