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Cadmium: The New Made-in-China Scare

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on January 12, 2010

A new year, a new Chinese safety scandal. If 2007 was the year of lead-tainted toys, 2008 was the year of melamine-laced milk and 2009 was the year of defective Chinese drywall, the new year could be the year of the poisoned trinkets. According to an Associated Press investigative story published yesterday, Chinese manufacturers are putting cadmium into children’s costume jewelry. Because they can’t use lead anymore, the AP reports, some Chinese companies have been using the heavy metal in the production of items like charm bracelets and pendants. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s chairman, Inez Tenenbaum, is promising a crackdown, telling a toy safety conference here in Hong Kong today that “voluntary efforts will only take us so far.”

How dangerous is cadmium? Not very, according to the website (Yes, the mineral has its own website.) “Cadmium is recognized to produce toxic effects on humans. Long-term occupational exposure can cause adverse health effects on the lungs and kidneys. Under normal conditions, adverse human health effects have not been encountered from general population exposure to cadmium.” The website is published by the International Cadmium Association.

For a less sanguine take on cadmium, though, check out the web site of OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) cadmium “is an extremely toxic metal commonly” and overexposure “may occur even in situations where trace quantities of cadmium are found.” Scary stuff. Following the melamine scandals, in which thousands of Chinese children ended up in the hospital and some died after drinking milk that contained the industrial chemical, it’s hard to give Chinese manufacturers the benefit of the doubt. The U.S. and Chinese governments now need to move fast to reassure worried parents both inside and outside China that their daughters’ play jewelry is safe.

Reader Comments

David Morson

January 12, 2010 4:53 AM

Cadmium is a real danger for humans as well as chinese products. Chinese manufacturers should have a policy about it.


January 12, 2010 8:50 AM

with all sorts of cleaning agents, alcohol, guns, matches, ropes, batteries, electrical appliances at home, the only scare here is made by the media in yet another china bashing.

as they say: when you do more, the more chance you'll screw up. if you don't do nothing, you'll never mess up.

ain't life suck, eh?


January 12, 2010 9:51 AM

So I guess the author wouldn't mind having its spawns and its related spawns all wear cadmium jewelry next to their skins for a while? No harm done right?

Paul Midler

January 12, 2010 10:04 AM

Mainstream media has enabled the crisis by downplaying the seriousness of the problem. Take this article as an example. Here, we have the suggestion that cadmium is not at all dangerous. Other sources tell us that cadmium is worse than led. That there has been a major recall should tell most consumers everything that they need to know.

Bruce Einhorn refers to the melamine scandal of 2009 without adding an important recent development: Last year's milk crisis led China to execute two people who were involved. This extreme form of punishment did not its intended effect -- another dairy company has just been caught adulterating milk in the same manner using the same toxic substance.

China product safety is a serious problem, and it is not getting the right kind of attention. Media should be seen as enabling the problem when it downplays event. Had this publication appropriately covered the issue years ago, we would not be facing a high risk of product failure today. This is not about sensationalism; it is something that affects consumers around the world.

Paul Midler
Author of Poorly Made in China
Published by John Wiley & Sons 2009


January 12, 2010 10:51 AM

Yea, keep fanning the flame.

C. H. Ng

January 12, 2010 10:57 AM it goes again! On one hand we have these unscrupulous manufacturers who go all out to make a fast buck w/o a care for the safety of others and on the other hand we have these watchdogs who beside working on the safety aspect of their job, love to wait for a chance to highlight or showcase any dirty Chinese "laundry" in public.

With all respect to the safety of the public consumers, I would also like to condemn what the Chinese manufacturers are doing if their products are found to cause safety scandal. I think the Chinese government should prevent such future public outcry by strictly imposing certain standards such as making the manufacturers labelling all chemical contents in their products so that all the importers / buyers will know in advance what they are buying. Thus giving no chance for some people who love nothing better to blast your products.


January 12, 2010 9:46 PM

If China faced half the regulations the established economies did, they wouldn't be anything close to the deal they manipulate themselves into. Enough with this! Where is the WTO???


January 13, 2010 4:55 AM

actually, the dry wall problem occurred in american made drywall too and yet that was not very publicized. bias anyone.

all this demonization of made in china products is just a way of protectionism and racists who fear and detest china's rise.

oh, well. i guess the western countries can't really develop without wars and colonization like the days of old huh?


January 13, 2010 12:14 PM

When China sneezes, WalMart catches a cold.

C. H. Ng

January 13, 2010 8:45 PM

The problem with most mainlander Chinese is their mentality of trying to make as much money as possible in the fastest way. And usually the only way to short-cut success is always either through illegal or unscrupulous way.

As such I think the Chinese government should not only start implementing laws & regulations on the safety aspect of their manufactured products but also to educate the public that money is not everything. The best way to do drum up the message is by starting on the young school students as it's more difficult to change the mindset of the adult work force now.

jack webb

January 13, 2010 9:37 PM

It is funny that every time there is a report on unsafe products from China, mention is made of every unsafe product from the past, 2007-lead tainted toys; 2008-milk;2009-drywalls.... Do you know how many millions of products China manufactures in one year? Do you know how many unsafe products and agricultural items were made in the U.S. in one year alone? Do you know that Toyota made cars that accelerate? Are all Japanese made products that safe?

But no, every time you report on some unsafe product from China, you have to cite all unsafe products from the past.
That is funny and unbiased reporting all right.


January 15, 2010 12:05 AM

David Morson,
Chinese gov. has a lot of good policies, but the implementation is a fairy tale.

Henry L.

January 17, 2010 4:44 PM

Chinese manufacturers found guilty in producing dangerous goods should be punished. The big problem I see is that the Whole country is blamed for the misbehavior of some companies. With all the scandals that happened here in the US in the last ten years (enron, worldcom, the banks etc...) do we blame the entire country to be corrupt? ofcoarse not, we pin point the individuals responsible for the mess.


January 20, 2010 9:53 AM

From the comments I've seen, most arguments are either for or against Chinese products and hazardous items. Everyone is missing the boat. Anything we can do to eliminate "dangerous", "hazardous", and "unsafe" items from our lives will be a bonus. I also agree the media plays up some and not others. Just like everything else. Be safe...


January 29, 2010 1:26 AM

".....Last year's milk crisis led China to execute two people who were involved...." ABC reported Toyota may be responsible for 16 deaths in U.S., is there death penalty in Japan? "As Toyota Woes Mount, Where is Akio Toyoda?"


August 14, 2010 9:18 PM

China's export products are safe, because they are through strict inspection.

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