A survey carried out by London Trading Standards on low cost necklace jewellery found that over half had components with excessive levels of lead, cadmium or nickel release. In the worst cases parts containing 82% lead and 56% cadmium were found.
Lead and cadmium are known to be toxic metals and as such the levels allowed in jewellery are restricted to 0.05% and 0.01% by weight respectively.
The greatest risk from excessive lead content is to children who may be tempted to mouth their jewellery regularly, so parental supervision to prevent this happening is recommended.
The risks from high Cadmium content are most acute during the manufacture or alteration of items, when its’ vapour may be inhaled and so actual end users should not be unduly alarmed by these findings.
Nickel is known to create a sensitivity reaction and is the most common cause of contact allergy in Europe. The rate of release of the metal is restricted by safety regulations to 0.88μg/cm2/week yet. One sample found had a rate of over 60.
Fifteen London authorities took part in the survey sampling 30 non-precious metal necklaces which were bought from stalls and shops across London. Individual components of each sample were then tested for lead and cadmium content and nickel release levels.
EU Regulations, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulates the use of nickel, lead and cadmium. The results of the sampling were as follows:
- 19 samples were non-compliant (63.3%)
- Only 11 out of 30 different variants (36.7%) had acceptable levels of lead, cadmium and nickel release
- 15 samples (50%) had excessive lead content with the highest content being 82.4%
- 13 samples (43%) had excessive cadmium content with the highest content being 55.6%
- 8 samples (26%) had excessive nickel release with the highest being 68 μg/cm2/wee
- 5 samples (16.6%) had excess levels of 1 out of 3 metals
- 11 samples (36.7%) had excess levels of 2 out of 3 metals
- 3 samples (10%) had excess levels of all 3 metals
As a result of the findings trading standards have been working to ensure corrective action is taken against the suppliers concerned and that the products are removed from sale.
Steve Playle, spokesperson for London Trading Standards said:
“London Trading Standards view product safety as a priority issue and have worked collaboratively to undertake sampling across the capital. Some manufacturers and importers of low cost jewellery clearly need to improve their quality standards to ensure legal requirements are met. We urge suppliers to make sure they source stock from reputable traceable sources and ask for proof of compliance”
John Milligan, Chairman of The Jewellery Distributors’ Association said:
“These results come as no surprise to my organisation which supports responsible jewellery businesses. The REACH regulations are expensive to comply with, in terms of testing, and, no doubt, expensive to enforce for hard pressed local trading standards. The temptation to cut corners by less scrupulous suppliers means law abiding jewellery manufactures and importers face a major competitive disadvantage which threatens their very survival. The JDA supports more effective enforcement and would call on government to fund regular sampling and testing programs to help raise standards and ensure a level playing field.”
The survey formed part of a government funded costume jewellery market surveillance project which also targeted bracelets and earrings. Nationally the results also found a non-compliance rate of 63% with lead content representing the highest failure rate.
- Business compliance advice for jewellery suppliers can be found on the business companion website
- Information on chemicals can be found on the European Chemicals Agency website
- Guidance on REACH can be found at the Health & Safety Executive website
- Jewellery Distributors’ Association of the United Kingdom website