LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News 16 Number 4, June 2016, ISSN 1324-6011
The newsletter of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
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US and Californian laws controlling lead and cadmium in jewellery

Information collated by Elizabeth O'Brien, with help from members of the Leadnet egroup

The United States, has created the most stringent laws controlling lead in children’s jewelry/jewellery and the State of California, has the most stringent laws controlling lead in adult’s jewellery and cadmium in children’s jewellery

2012 VAP Entry. Title: All that Glitters is not Gold or Silver.Lead-Safety Message: If jewellery is cheaper or heavier than expected, ask the retailer for lead test result or assume it contains lead. Never let it into the mouthes of babes. Materials: Photo manipulated in Powerpoint. Artist: Ardhika Wira. http://volcanoartprize.com/portfolio-item/all-that-glitters-is-not-gold-or-silver/

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) limit of lead in children’s products including jewellery/jewelry is 100 ppm (100 parts per million is equivalent to 100 milligrams per kilogram -mg/kg - or 0.01%) of lead, and this lead limit applies even to the sale, loan or donation of used (ie second-hand) children’s metal jewellery. Children’s products are defined by the US CPSC as those products designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger.

Presumably, if children’s jewelry includes a surface coating eg beads or charms that are coated with ink or paint, then the surface coating on the jewelry component must comply with the more stringent lead limit (from http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Business--Manufacturing/Business-Education/Lead/Total-Lead-Content/#tl_04a ) for:

Lead in Paint and Similar Surface Coatings

All children's products, and some furniture, for adult and children, must not contain a concentration of lead greater than 0.009 percent (90 parts per million) in paint or any similar surface coatings. Household paint must also meet this requirement.

However in California, the regulation limiting lead and cadmium relates to all jewellery sold in California, with its most stringent limits on lead and cadmium being applied to children’s jewellery, although children are defined as being 6 years old and under.

The following text comes from http://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-faqs

What are the Proposition 65 requirements for lead in jewelry?

Lead is listed under Proposition 65 as known to the State of California to cause both cancer and reproductive harm. Jewelry is just one of many types of products that may contain lead. Manufacturers and importers of lead-containing jewelry must warn consumers if they will be exposed to lead in jewelry in an amount that exceeds the safe harbor level of 0.5 micrograms per day.

Proposition 65 settlements often result in reformulation of products so that they contain fewer chemicals and other substances known to cause cancer or reproductive harm. For example, a 2006 settlement of a Proposition 65 lawsuit (link is external) set standards for lead in jewelry and other products. The companies involved in the settlement agreed to reduce the lead content in jewelry and other products.

Other state and federal laws also regulate lead in jewelry. For example, the [California] Department of Toxic Substances Control enforces the Lead Containing Jewelry Law (link is external)2, which limits the amount of lead in jewelry and establishes specific testing procedures for that jewelry.  DTSC has a fact sheet (link is external) that gives additional information.

Nationwide, the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (link is external) enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates lead in children’s products, including children’s jewelry.  More information is available in their document Children's Products Containing Lead; Procedures and Requirements for Exclusions From Lead Limits Under Section 101(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (link is external).

Cadmium, another chemical on the Proposition 65 list, has been used as a substitute for lead in jewelry-making. Exposures to cadmium are subject to the same Proposition 65 warning requirement as lead. Since January 1, 2012, a separate California law (link is external)3 has regulated children’s jewelry that contains any component or is made of any material that is more than 0.03% cadmium by weight. The Department of Toxic Substances maintains a website with information Cadmium in Children's Jewelry (link is external).

2 Cal. Health & Safety Code, §§ 25214.1-25214.4.2
3 Cal. Health & Safety Code, § 25214.2

The following headings/links and text comes from the above link named “DTSC has a fact sheet”, that is, from “Lead In Jewelry” fact sheet, at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/LeadInJewelry.cfm

Why be concerned?

Children 6 years old and under are most at risk because their bodies are growing quickly. Jewelry containing lead poses a particular concern because children are prone to placing jewelry in their mouths, which can result in absorption of dangerous levels of lead. Lead poisoning is blamed for the death of a four year old in Minnesota who swallowed a lead containing jewelry charm.

California’s Metal-Containing Jewelry Law:

  • Forbids a person to manufacture, ship, sell, or offer for retail sale or offer for promotional purposes jewelry in California unless it is made entirely from one or more of the materials specified in the law,
  • Mandates lead restrictions for certain of the specified materials allowed in manufacturing jewelry, and
  • Establishes separate provisions for children’s jewelry, body-piercing jewelry, and all other jewelry.

After California enacted the Lead-Containing Jewelry Law to place limits on lead levels in jewelry, some manufacturers replaced lead with cadmium, which is also toxic. In response, California’s legislature amended the Lead-Containing Jewelry law (now known as the Metal-Containing Jewelry Law) to restrict not only lead, but also cadmium, in children's jewelry. Cadmium levels in children’s jewelry must be less than 300 parts per million, by weight. Please see our Cadmium in Children's Jewelry Web page.


The above fact-sheet contains a “Lead Restrictions” link which goes to http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/PollutionPrevention/ToxicsInProducts/upload/simple-lead-guide-rev.pdf where you’ll find the following title and text:


(Health and Safety Code sections 25214.1-25214.4.2), which contains the following lead limits:

The purpose of this guide is to clarify the lead restrictions for two categories: children’s jewelry and all other jewelry except body-piercing jewelry.1


Children’s jewelry2 – under California law:

Metallic materials: less than 0.06 percent (600 ppm) lead by weight (unless they are class 1 materials, which carry no lead restriction)

Plastic or rubber, including acrylic, polystyrene, plastic beads and stones, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC): less than 0.02 percent (200 parts per million) lead by weight.

Glass or crystal decorative components: must weigh less than one gram, excluding any glass or crystal components containing less than 0.02 percent (200 ppm) lead by weight and that have no intentionally added lead

A dye or surface coating: less than 0.06 percent (600 ppm) lead by weight

Printing ink or ceramic glaze: less than 0.06 percent (600 ppm) lead by weight

Class 3 materials: less than 0.02 percent (200 ppm) lead by weight.


Non-metallic materials that are Class 1 materials (for example – glass, ceramic, or crystal components, certain gemstones, and elastic, fabric, ribbon, rope, or string, without intentionally added lead) can be used in children’s jewelry, as long as they do not violate the glass or crystal component restrictions above.


All other jewelry (except body-piercing jewelry):

Electroplated metal alloys: less than 6 percent lead by weight.

Unplated metals (other than Class 1): less than 1.5 percent by weight.

Plastic or rubber, including acrylic, polystyrene, plastic beads and stones, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC): less than 0.02 percent (200 parts per million) lead by weight.

A dye or surface coating: less than 0.06 percent (600 ppm) lead by weight.


[The above are “Class 2 materials”.]

Any material not a class 1 or class 2 material [“Class 3 material”]: less than 0.06 percent (600 ppm) lead by weight.


The following materials can be used in jewelry intended for adults, and have no lead restrictions:

Class 1 materials, namely:

o Stainless or surgical steel.

o Karat gold.

o Sterling silver.

o Platinum, palladium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, or osmium.

o Natural or cultured pearls.

o Glass, ceramic, or crystal decorative components, including cat's eye, cubic zirconia, including cubic zirconium or CZ, rhinestones, and cloisonné.

o A gemstone that is cut and polished for ornamental purposes. The following gemstones are not class 1 materials: aragonite, bayldonite, boleite, cerussite, crocoite, ekanite, linarite, mimetite, phosgenite, samarskite, vanadinite, and wulfenite.

o Elastic, fabric, ribbon, rope, or string, unless it contains intentionally added lead and is listed as a class 2 material.

o All natural decorative material, including amber, bone, coral, feathers, fur, horn, leather, shell, wood, that is in its natural state and is not treated in a way that adds lead.

o Adhesive.


1 The body-piercing jewelry provisions under the Metal-Containing Jewelry Law identify the materials that can be used in this jewelry, without specifying lead restrictions. “Body-piercing jewelry” is defined as that part of the jewelry that is placed in a new piercing or a mucous membrane. [Please see Health and Safety Code section 25214.1(b) for a full definition.]

2 Under California’s Metal-Containing Jewelry Law, “children” are defined as age 6 and younger. “Children’s jewelry” is defined as “jewelry that is made for, marketed for use by, or marketed to, children. [Please see Health and Safety Code section 25214.1(c) and (d) for full definitions.]


The astute reader will notice that the federal US CPSC lead limit of 0.01% for children’s jewelry is more stringent than some of the Californian lead limits in various components of children’s jewelry, and covers children up to 12 years of age, not just 6 years of age. The article State Authority to Regulate Toxins in Children's Consumer Products, by Adjunct Professor Doug Farquhar and Scott Hendrick, at http://elr.info/news-analysis/40/10282/state-authority-regulate-toxins-childrens-consumer-products comments specifically on this point:

State legislatures have been at the forefront in introducing and adopting policies to restrict or ban specific hazards in certain products, seeking to regulate the amount of lead, cadmium, phthalates, bisphenyl-A, and other compounds in children's products. Congress followed the state efforts by enacting the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act [CPSIA] of 2008, which bolsters previous efforts by the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and other federal laws. As a result, some state laws are preempted and some may have to be modified, while others remain unchanged…

Children’s jewelry, as defined under California’s state law, falls under the scope of federal law regulating the lead content of children’s products.100 Therefore, because California’s lead content restrictions in children’s jewelry target the same risk of injury—child lead poisoning—as the federal standards, and prescribe requirements as to the content of these products, California’s standards are preempted unless identical to the federal regulations.

California’s statute sets a number of different lead content restrictions for children’s jewelry based on the type of material used. In each case, these are different than the federal graduated standard. Therefore, California’s law regulating the lead content of children’s jewelry will likely be pre-empted by the standards in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

But as Caroline Cox from the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, California commented in an email to Leadnet egroup:

“At the time it was passed, it was much better than any federal standards because there weren't any of those. Once CPSIA passed, those children's standards were much more health protective. However, I believe that the standards for "adult" jewelry are still important. Also, the cadmium standard is stricter than the voluntary ASTM standard.”

Responding to the above comment in another email to Leadnet, Dr Jeffrey Weidenhamer, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, Geology & Physics, University Of Ashland, Ohio stated:

“I want to second Caroline Cox’s comments about so-called ‘adult’ jewelry. The definitions of children’s jewelry are so restrictive that many inexpensive items that would appeal to young children do not fit the classification of children’s jewelry. These items can have high lead and/or cadmium content and this is not restricted by current laws, despite the fact that these are items that children may have access to.”

So until lead is banned in jewellery globally, be aware and buy lead-free!

2013 VAP Entry. Title: A Lead Weight. Lead-Safety Message: Always buy lead-free products if they are available eg lead-free ammunition, crystal, fishing sinkers, jewellery, artists’ paints, wheel weights. Description of Work/Material: Photograph. Artist/Photographer: Judy Pinn. http://volcanoartprize.com/portfolio-item/a-lead-weight/

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