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Brown Cracks Down on the Sale of Jewelry Made of Highly Toxic Lead

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Contact: (415) 703-5837

OAKLAND — Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued a consumer alert warning of a “serious health hazard” after he demanded that retail stores Rainbow and 5-7-9 remove from their shelves jewelry with parts containing as much as 97% lead, a potentially fatal health hazard, especially for young children.

“This jewelry represents a serious health hazard,” Brown said, “and it is especially dangerous if a child gets a hold of it and puts it in his or her mouth. Some of these bangles are almost solid lead. The jewelry must be banished from retailers’ shelves once and for all.”

Some pieces of the lead-infested jewelry were labeled “KIDS” and one piece was marked “lead free” although its clasp contained more than 80% lead.

There is no safe level of lead exposure. In 2006, a four-year-old Minnesota boy died after he swallowed a pendant from jewelry that was more than 90% lead, and it became stuck in his intestinal tract.

In a letter to the stores’ corporate parent, Rainbow Apparel, Brown said, “Some of the jewelry had components that would be highly toxic, and potentially lethal, if ingested, and all of it contains sufficient lead to contribute to long-term health risks.”

California law bans the sale of jewelry that fails to comply with strict limits on the amount of lead it contains. The law was the result of a 2006 settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Attorney General and two environmental groups, Center of Environmental Health and As You Sow.

In that settlement, Rainbow and other retailers agreed to stop selling jewelry containing more than traces of lead. But four times in a little more than a year, the Attorney General has sent notices of violation to Rainbow for breaking the law and the terms of the settlement by selling jewelry made of lead.

Using a fund created in the 2006 settlement, the Center for Environmental Health monitors the stores. In May, it purchased 16 items containing lead from Rainbow stores in Northern California. Fifteen of the pieces contained more than 50% lead. One was 97% lead, and one labeled “KIDS” and “lead free” had a clasp that contained 81% lead. It’s all inexpensive costume jewelry made in China.

Brown’s letter to Rainbow Apparel follows:

June 24, 2010

RE: NOTICE OF VIOLATION to Rainbow Apparel of America, Inc.

This is a Notice of Violation to Rainbow Apparel of America, Inc., Rainbow Apparel Distribution Center Corp., A.I.J.J Enterprises, Inc., and The New 5-7-9 and Beyond, Inc. (collectively, “Rainbow Parties”). I am writing to you about jewelry purchased at Rainbow and 5-7-9 stores in northern California that exceeds the lead standards established in a consent judgment that applies to the Rainbow Parties, and that violates California Health and Safety Code section 25214.2(b)(3). This letter constitutes a Notice of Violation pursuant to Section 4.2 of the consent judgment. A copy of the consent judgment is available on our web site, at http://ag.ca.gov/prop65/pdfs/amendedConsent.pdf.

Using a grant from the Jewelry Testing Fund created under the consent judgment, the Center for Environmental Health purchased sixteen different pieces of jewelry with excess lead at your stores. Most of the pieces contained plated metal components with more than 80 percent lead, and two of the pieces had more than 95 percent lead. The consent judgment prohibits plated metal components with more than six percent lead. (§ 3.2.2.1.) One of the violations is for a plastic faux leather bracelet with 955 parts per million lead, which is nearly five times above the standard of 200 ppm. (§ 3.2.2.3.) Similarly troubling is the fact that one of the necklaces is labeled “lead free” even though its pendant contains 80 percent lead, and several of the pieces are marked “KIDS” below the bar code.

Enclosed with this letter is a table that lists the reference number for each piece of jewelry, a description of the jewelry, the date and location where the jewelry was purchased, the component with lead, and the lead level. Photographs of each piece of jewelry and the test results also are enclosed. We will provide additional documentation from the lab upon request.

This is the fourth notice of violation for illegal jewelry we have sent the Rainbow Parties in little over a year. Previously we sent notices of violation on May 22, 2009, October 5, 2009, and January 29, 2010. Each time the company has responded that it shares the Attorney General’s concern regarding the sale of jewelry with excess lead, but each time more jewelry is discovered that violates the consent judgment and California’s ban on lead-containing jewelry. We understand that the Rainbow Parties have instructed their vendors to provide compliant jewelry, and after each notice of violation it has addressed the violation with the vendors involved. But clearly that is not enough. Some of the jewelry at issue here has components that would be highly toxic, and potentially lethal, if ingested, and all of it contains sufficient lead to contribute to long-term health risks. Moreover, labeling jewelry as “lead free” when it contains a component with 80 percent lead raises additional concerns about false and misleading advertising. The company must do more to stop selling jewelry that is potentially dangerous and that violates the law.

We therefore request, in addition to responding to this notice under section 4.2.3 of the consent judgment, that you and your client meet with our office to discuss what steps the company will take to ensure that it stops selling jewelry with excess lead. Please contact me to schedule a meeting. Further, in your written response to the notice of violation, we ask that you provide specific data about the amount of the each kind of jewelry offered for sale, sold, and removed from shelves in California stores.

Sincerely,

EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
Attorney General

Photos of some of the pieces of jewelry found to be in violation are attached.

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Photo of Jewelry 4602.58 KB
Photo of Jewelry 5590.89 KB

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