Jewelry from two entire lines being sold exclusively at Walmart stores nationwide, including bracelets and necklaces branded by Miley Cyrus, contains high levels of the toxic metal cadmium, according to an Associated Press investigation.
Testing of 61 samples purchased by AP reporters across the country from a Cyrus line and from a series of make-it-yourself metal bracelet charms indicated that 59 of the pieces contained at least 5 percent cadmium by weight, with 53 of those measuring 10 percent or higher.
And the world's largest retailer knows the items are tainted.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. received test results in February showing cadmium in these jewelry lines, but has continued selling the items.
Instead, Wal-Mart revealed in an April 26 statement that as of April 9, it was requiring suppliers to show through tests at a company-approved lab that children's jewelry and other kids' products had little cadmium — or else Wal-Mart would not accept the items for sale.
The policy did not apply to products already on store shelves. A Wal-Mart executive told a Consumer Product Safety Commission hearing that testing items already in stores would be too difficult.
In its only comment for this story, Wal-Mart said the Miley Cyrus jewelry was for "juniors," without defining that age range. Representatives for Miley Cyrus and BCBGMaxAzria did not comment when asked.
To judge the extent of the ongoing availability of pieces that Wal-Mart knew were contaminated, AP dispatched reporters throughout the country last month. They purchased any of 13 items matching those on the test results the company had in February. Those items came from two product lines: three were Miley Cyrus jewelry, a project done with designer BCBGMaxAzria; the other 10 were from a series of make-it-yourself metal bracelet charms.
The packaging said they were made in China; all were bought for $6 or less.
All but one of the 13 was on store shelves in the eight states where AP reporters looked.
At AP's request, the purchased items were then tested by Prof. Jeff Weidenhamer, a chemist at Ashland University in Ohio. He said the average cadmium content was 16 percent, and that the levels are probably higher. Weidenhamer's prior research has shown that the testing method he used — an X-ray gun that can roughly tell the amount of cadmium in an item — typically underestimates how much is present.
Representatives of the jewelry industry have argued that the presence of cadmium, even at high levels, is not by itself proof that an item is dangerous. The important thing, they say, isn't how much cadmium is in jewelry but rather how much can escape if the item is sucked, bitten or swallowed.
Cadmium in children's jewelry became a public concern in January when the AP published the results of an investigation that showed items at Walmarts — and other large chains — were as much as 91 percent of the toxic metal by weight. Federal regulators have since issued three recalls, including one affecting "The Princess and The Frog" movie themed pendants sold at Walmarts.
Long-term exposure to cadmium can lead to bone softening and kidney failure. It is a known carcinogen that recent research suggests can, like lead, hinder brain development in the very young.
While AP's January investigation focused on jewelry clearly intended for children, the items tested for AP this time were labeled "not intended for children under 14 years." That is an important legal distinction: Under current regulation, children's items are defined as for kids 12 and under, and children's products have all kinds of regulations that others do not.
Federal regulators' own research says that kids start becoming interested in making their own jewelry around age six or eight. As for products featuring Miley Cyrus — she is 17 and thanks to the "Hannah Montana" franchise, her appeal dips down to kids as young as five.
The importer of the charms for make-it-yourself bracelets, Cousin Corp. of America, said the jewelry was targeted at adults. Roy Gudgeon, vice president of merchandise at Florida-based Cousin, said that didn't mean high cadmium levels were acceptable.
"We recognize that many of our adult customers are homemakers who may have children present in their home," he said. "Our intention as a company is to never willingly cause harm to a child."
After checking company records, Gudgeon said that it had imported more than 300,000 of the charms that Weidenhamer tested. Shipment figures were not immediately available for the Miley Cyrus items.