Toxic metals used in some costume jewelry -


Toxic metals used in some costume jewelry

A lot of people love to wear jewelry and accessories to spruce up an outfit, but some of the chemicals and metals used to make inexpensive costume jewelry could be dangerous to your health.

Before you ‘bling up' for a big occasion, think twice about the dangerous chemicals you could be putting on your body.

According to a report from and the environmental non-profit group The Ecology Center, buying some types of costume jewelry could be harmful.

Researchers tested costume jewelry from 14 retailers in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Vermont.

All of the items were purchased for less than $10, and most were targeted to children.  

They found high levels of lead, cadmium, and arsenic -- elements the US Consumer Product Safety Commission considers hazardous to human health.  

If a child sucks or bites some of these costume jewelry products, over time, they could be exposed to these toxins.

Art Teacher Tanya Eddy makes sure students in her class aren't using potentially toxic 'bling' to make their art projects. 

"I try to make sure there's not anything with lead in it, that was always a worry," Eddy said.

We purchased several pieces of costume jewelry and had them tested by scientists at Arkansas State University.

"We were specifically looking for cadmium, lead and arsenic," said Dr. Robert Engelken, a professor of electrical engineering at ASU.

Using high-tech equipment, scientists at ASU were able to determine which metals were used to make the costume jewelry.

"This allows you to see three-dimensional aspects of whatever you're looking at," Engelken said about the equipment in his lab. "In one sample, we had one very small concentration of lead, and in two samples we had an extremely small concentration of arsenic."

Many of the samples had high amounts of copper, carbon and oxygen.

Based on our unofficial tests, Engelken said there was no need to panic.

"My personal opinion is that what we saw would mean that the jewelry would be perfectly safe for wearing in a normal sense, but parents might still want to be cautious in making sure that young children did not put these in their mouths," Engelken advises.

So, here's what you can do to prevent any toxins from getting into you or your child's body:


  • Throw away any cheap costume jewelry in your home.
  • Purchase metal jewelry made from sterling silver, gold, stainless steel or titanium. 


Exposing your child to lead can cause them to have a lower IQ and learning disabilities. Cadmium can cause harm to the kidneys and lungs.

According to, citizen pressure is the key to making the government and manufacturers bring safer products to market.

Additional information:

  • Lead can cause harm even at very low levels, especially in young children. (Source: CDC)
  • Lead exposure can cause children to have a lowered IQ, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity, behavioral issues, impaired hearing, anemia, and decreased growth.
  • Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, kidney disease and hypertension.
  • Click here to read "The Dangers in Kids' Jewelry."

The following are the Jewelry Screening Findings from

What Chemicals Did We Test for?

  • tested jewelry for chemicals based on their toxicity or suspected toxicity, persistence, and/or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals, including lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and bromine and chlorine (PVC) have been linked in animal and some human studies to acute allergies and to long-term health impacts such as birth defects, impaired learning, liver toxicity, and cancer.
  • measured the presence of these chemicals with an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer -- a proven, accurate screening tool of elements in products. Select products were also tested for total lead and total cadmium by digesting samples in nitric acid and analyzing with atomic absorption.


  • 99 pieces of jewelry were tested, from 14 different retailers located in six different states (Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Vermont). Jewelry was purchase in December 2011. Most jewelry purchased was under $10.
  • Samples were purchase from 14 retailers include Ming 99 Cent City, Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Big Lots, Claire's, Forever 21, Glitter, Walmart, H&M, Meijers, Kohl's, Justice, Icing and Hot Topic.

Overall Results

  • 59% of products tested were rated as having HIGH level of concern due the presence of one or more hazardous chemical detected at high levels
  • 6% of products tested were rated as having a MEDIUM level of concern due to the detection of one or more hazardous chemicals at medium levels
  • 35% of products tested were rated as having a LOW level of concern due to the detection of one or more hazardous chemicals at low levels


  • 27 of 99 (27%) of jewelry contained greater than 300 ppm lead in one or more components. 300 ppm is the CPSC limits of lead in children's products
  • 48 of 99 (49%) of jewelry contained detectable levels of lead


  • 10 of 99 (10%) of jewelry contained greater than 100 ppm cadmium in one or more components
  • 47 of 99 (47%) of jewelry contained detectable levels of cadmium

Other Chemicals*

  • A high percentage of products had concentrations greater than 100 ppm of the metal allergens chromium (93%) and nickel (30%)
  • 12 of 95 (13%) of jewelry contained greater than 100 ppm arsenic
  • 5 of 95 (5%) of jewelry contained greater than 100 ppm mercury
  • 7 of 95 (7%) of jewelry contained brominate flame retardants (greater than 1,000 ppm bromine)
  • One-third, 11 of 95 (12%) of jewelry contained PVC (greater than 25,000 ppm chlorine)

(*Note: Not all products were tested for all chemicals. Four products were only tested for lead and cadmium.)

Products with crystal components

  • Of the 31 components that had lead levels between 41 and 300 ppm, 4 were from gem/crystal and 27 were from non-gem/crystal
  • Of the 52 component that had lead levels above 300 ppm, 25 were from gem/crystal and 27 were from non-gem/crystal

NOTE: is an initial screening of chemicals in products for a handful of hazardous chemicals. There are a number of chemicals of concern that the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device and cannot detect. For example, there has been much concern recently about bisphenol A, a component of polycarbonate plastic. The XRF device is not able to detect bisphenol A, nor can it identify polycarbonate. In addition, the XRF device cannot detect phthalates, a family of chemicals of concern, although we have used the presence of PVC plastic as a surrogate for the likely presence of phthalates.

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