WASHINGTON – A government regulatory agency has taken steps toward banning children's jewelry containing small amounts of lead, which was responsible for more than a dozen product recalls in the past two years.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to move forward in a process that could ultimately lead to a ban on children's jewelry containing more than .06 percent lead by weight. The commission currently has two members and one vacancy.
"Our goal is not to continue to do recall after recall," CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said. "We've had upwards of 14 recalls since 2004."
The commission's action was taken late Wednesday.
The CPSC works with companies to issue recalls when it finds consumer goods that can be harmful. Under current regulations, children's products found to have more than .06 percent lead are usually subject to a recall, in which the company must reimburse consumers for the value of the product, provide a replacement or offer a repair.
In March a Minnesota boy died of lead poisoning after swallowing a metal pendant from a charm bracelet that came with a pair of Reebok shoes. The incident resulted in a recall. In 2004, the CPSC issued the biggest recall in the agency's history — 150 million pieces of children's jewelry with unsafe lead levels.
Earlier this month the CPSC staff urged the commission to evaluate safety of children's jewelry by total lead content, and ban anything with more than .06 percent lead by weight.
Since February 2005, children's jewelry has been evaluated on both total lead content and on the percentage of lead considered "accessible" to children. But the accessibility of lead was the agency's primary safety concern. The proposed rule change would eliminate tests for accessible lead and judge safety solely on total lead content.
"Where you have high levels of total lead you generally have high levels of accessible lead also," Wolfson said. "So let's streamline the process."
By banning toy jewelry with that much lead, CPSC's Wolfson said, the agency can fine companies that knowingly manufacture, sell or import it.
The ban was urged in response to a petition filed earlier this year by the Sierra Club, a California-based environmental advocacy group.
"We are very pleased to have the CPSC on board as a partner in solving this problem," said Sierra Club press secretary Eric Antebi. But he added that the issue could not be resolved without assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Sierra Club also filed a petition with the EPA asking that agency to put measures in place to prevent lead-containing jewelry from reaching store shelves, Antebi said. But the EPA rejected the petition in July and the Sierra Club filed suit against the agency in September.
EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the petition was rejected because two of the Sierra Club's requested actions were beyond the scope of the agency's authority. The agency thought that the other two Sierra Club requests would not help to solve the problem, she added.
"We're working with the CPSC on this issue," Jones said. "At this point we're not sure if our authority, their authority or joint authority is the best way to go."
The CPSC will be gathering public input on the proposed rule in the coming months.