Lead content regulations for Jewelry
June 25, 2008
Dear Ask Harriete,
I have a question for you. Concerning your recycled tin jewelry, how are you handling the new lead content regulations in California? Thanks for your time.
Concerned about new jewelry regulations
Dear Concerned about Lead Content in Jewelry,
You bring up a subject that I've never considered -- because the tin cans used in my jewelry do not contain lead or lead solder. "Tin cans" have not contained tin or lead for most of the past century.
The term "tin can" comes from the 19th-century innovation for fabricating food storage cans. The technology at that time made steel cans that were "tinned" on the inside with tin to limit the exposure of the food to the steel. Currently, most cans are either plated with food-safe plating or coated with plastic to avoid a metallic taste from the steel can. Seams of tin cans are no longer soldered with lead solder.
Read more about the California law about lead content in jewelry at the California Department of Toxic Substance Control website.
The California law about lead content in jewelry can be viewed online at: California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
Rings and Things has a clear diagram of the CA Jewelry-Making Materials Classification.
The issue of lead content in jewelry has a lot more to do with inexpensive imported jewelry including toy jewelry for children sold in kits and "playsets."
From the Environmental Protection Agency: July 8, 2004 The threat of lead poisoning from toy jewelry led the CPSC to conduct a voluntary recall of 150 million pieces of metal toy jewelry sold widely in vending machines. Unfortunately, another incident occurred in 2006, when a child died from ingesting a toy charm containing lead. This incident prompted the voluntary recall of 300,000 charm bracelets. The charm and metal bracelets were given as free gifts with the purchase of shoes from one manufacturer. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm55d323a1.htm
One factor that isn't highlighted enough is that children's exposure to lead is often due to ingestion of the jewelry; i.e. they swallow the toy jewelry. Children young enough to put items in their mouths should not be given small items to play with. Parents with young children need to be ever vigilant. The danger of children ingesting small items isn't limited to toy jewelry, but coins, pins, beads, etc. Vintage and adult costume jewelry could also present a problem with lead content. It is the parents' responsibility to constantly monitor what their children handle or play with.
It seems unlikely to me that artists and craftspeople in the United States are fabricating their own work with materials containing lead. The dangers of lead exposure have been well documented and regulations have been in place for years. Most raw materials are lead-free; for example, low-temperature solders and enamels have been lead-free for many years. Nevertheless, it is important for artists and craftspeople to know what they are working with during the fabrication of their work. If you are unsure, the label will tell you if the product is lead-free. Carefully examine the labels on all your raw materials to make sure they are lead-free for your own health and that of your customers.
This post was updated on December 15, 2021, to provide current links.