NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Is the government really cracking down on products containing toxic metals? CBS 11 News went undercover inside a number of North Texas stores and put dozens of kids toys and jewelry to the test.
First on the list — a toxic metal called cadmium, that we suspected might be in some children’s products. While we didn’t find that metal, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is no very interested in what we did find.
No one imagines that a fun day for 3-year-old Gabby Therivel would lead to a sore, red, inflamed eyes and a rash? “I was freaking out, that’s why I called the doctor’s office,” explained Gabby’s mother, Jessica Therivel. “It was an allergic reaction.”
Therivel says she didn’t know her twins had allergies until a doctor told her Gabby was likely having a reaction to the nickel in face paint. In a matter of hours, Gabby’s eyes had nearly swollen shut.
Concerns like these sent CBS 11 undercover buying toys and kids jewelry. We bought items that claimed to be lead and nickel free, to find out if manufacturers are using other toxic metals in the products.
Our testing began by using the very same device the CPSC uses to pre-screen metal content in products imported to the United States. Doug Lamphere, with Armstrong Forensic Laboratory, helped oversee the testing. He took the products that initially scored high for potentially toxic metals back to their Arlington lab for further analysis.
“These particular items of jewelry are on a board that says lead-free, nickel-free,” Armstrong Labs scientist Kelly Wouters said of the products. “It turns out when we did the testing, it’s not nickel-free or lead-free.”
Wouters says as a scientist, he would never say something is lead-free. While the lead and nickel levels were below federal standards, Wouters is still concerned. “The nickel level in this particular item we tested was 160 parts per million (ppm), and there is some evidence that nickel levels can cause an allergic reaction as low as 100 ppm,” he said.
Remember, Jessica Therivel’s daughter is allergic to nickel. “It seems almost that it should be illegal that it can say that it’s free of something, and when you test it still has the levels in it,” the mother said frustrated.
CBS 11 News contacted the management of Sam Moon, the store where the items we tested were purchased. Daniel Moon, vice president and general counsel of the chain, says the CPSC doesn’t offer any label guidance when it comes to children’s jewelry, and he’s right.
There is no federal law that regulates how heavy metals are listed on children’s product labels. But, based on what CBS 11 found, Moon says he is now making changes at all of his Texas stores. He said, “In the future, we’re going to require our vendors to print nickel and lead compliant.”
Congressman Michael Burgess (R-Lewisville), who supports toxic toy legislation, says the government is facing even bigger issues than labeling. “Why is it even necessary to have these compounds in there?” he asked. “Any of the heavy metals at some level are going to pose inherent toxicity.”
Burgess has concerns about all imports and everything they’re made of, including metals we found in products – like the high level of soluble barium Armstrong Labs detected in a women’s necklace. “I would be concerned, definitely,” Wouters said. “You want to make sure that children are not putting stuff in their mouths.”
In speeches to Hong Kong manufacturers, CPSC chairman Inez Tenenbaum has said soluble barium and several other elements are “bad metals for children to be exposed to.” She is now urging the makers of those products to stop using them all together.
Meanwhile, Dr. Stacey Hail, a medical toxicologist from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, says while legislators continue to debate what levels are safe, parents shouldn’t panic.
“We know that some of these heavy metals have been linked to certain cancers, but are you going to ban everything in the world because it may potentially be toxic,” Dr. Hail wondered aloud. “We encounter all of these heavy metals in our environment, in our soil, and even in our food. In a realistic way, we really shouldn’t be that concerned.”
Worried that is, unless you’re a mom who deals with serious allergic reactions, like Therivel. “It definitely makes me more consumer aware,” Therivel said.
The CPSC asked for our test results, and the agency says it’s reviewing them, but so far won’t comment on our findings.
There’s still a lot of debate about how harmful these metals are, but bottom line, the CPSC says it wants all of these metals out. Just last week, officials met to discuss further lowering the current standards for lead, and now some other potentially toxic metals could be added to that list.
Armstrong Forensic Laboratory created a personalized toy/jewelry testing program, called My Toy Testing, that anyone can take part in. For $50, the lab will test any questionable toys or jewelry.