Kathy Sanders waited until her 4-year-old daughter, Emma, was distracted with a video game Thursday. Then she made her move.
With the excuse that she needed to collect the laundry, Sanders sneaked upstairs and scooped up the jewelry that came with the Disney princess dressup set Emma had gotten for Christmas. Then she tossed it in the trash.
There have been lead scares, baby bottle scares and Christmas toy scares. And now, Sanders and other parents have something else to worry about: cadmium, which the nation’s product-safety chief warned this week could be present in cheap jewelry.
The warning came after The Associated Press reported that tests had showed high levels of cadmium in children’s jewelry imported from China. Like lead, cadmium can hinder brain development in children and even cause cancer, according to recent research.
It wasn’t clear if Emma’s new trinkets were dangerous, but Sanders, of Corfu, N.Y., wasn’t taking any chances. And she wasn’t alone.
In Chicago, Jennifer Seaver was planning to throw away all the cheap jewelry her 7-year-old, Julia, had amassed from goodie bags or gifts.
“I’m definitely only going to let her wear jewelry that’s gold or silver, that I buy her,” said Seaver, 38, who was shopping on Michigan Avenue. “I figure it’s an easy thing to avoid,” she said of the cadmium. “Those are all cheap things that can easily be thrown away.”
Seaver said she felt relatively calm about the warning from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s chairman, Inez Tenenbaum — perhaps because there had been so many scares in recent years. “Maybe because it happens so frequently, it makes me immune,” she said.
Others were angrier.
“When is America going to learn?” asked Theresa Savoie, a 53-year-old grandmother strolling through a mall in Gretna, La., with her 16-month-old grandson. “Everything you buy says ‘Made in China,’ and every time you turn around there’s another government warning.”
Many were concerned about the lack of specifics in the government’s guidance.
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“I wish somebody would give me a little bit more detail as to what’s bad and what’s not, so we don’t overreact,” said Cynthia Dermody of Pleasantville, N.Y., a mother of two and an editor of the popular parenting Web site cafemom.com.
The CPSC said its main concern is young children biting, sucking on or even swallowing the trinkets. It is unclear whether there is any substantial danger in skin exposure. Dermody’s 5-year-old daughter is no longer a baby, but she still sucks on the stuff.
“We’ve got this stuff all over the place, under couch cushions, everywhere,” Dermody said. “It’s pretty. It’s colorful. It looks like candy. She’s 5, so she should know better, but she does it anyway.”
Also frustrating to Dermody: the lack of guidance on how to dispose of the jewelry. The CSPC said to do it in an environmentally proper manner, but what does that mean?
In that regard, Jennifer Taggart is ahead of most — the Los Angeles mom and environmental attorney learned during an earlier lead scare to dispose of most of her daughter’s suspect trinkets during monthly hazardous-waste roundups in her community.
She plans to make another hunt and do the same now that cadmium is the problem.
“It’s easier just to spend a little bit more money on sterling silver,” said Taggart, a mother of two, including a 4-year-old girl. “Or make macaroni necklaces.”
It’s important to put it all in perspective, advised Susan Kane, editor of Parenting magazine. “Don’t panic,” she said. “In most cases of toxin warnings, experts agree — for the typical child, this is probably not going to be an emergency situation, unless the child has swallowed a toy or has been mouthing or chewing on it extensively.”
Leah Ingram was following that advice.
“My kids aren’t currently eating their jewelry, so it’s not a problem for me,” said the mother of two from New Hope, Pa. “As far as I’m concerned, if your children are young enough for you to be worrying about their brain development, they’re too young to be wearing jewelry anyway.
“Now, if it were uranium warnings,” she added, “I might be concerned.”
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