Is Cadmium as serious as Lead?

Children are most likely to be at risk

Cadmium is a carcinogen known for causing lung, breast and kidney cancers.  However, because of its recent discovery in consumer products, only scant research results exist to help determine the long-term health effects in children exposed to cadmium.

At this time, scientists suspect cadmium hinders brain development in children and potentially causes kidney damage and bone deterioration.

Cadmium is a by-product of metal refining and found in rechargeable batteries.

Some manufacturers of inexpensive jewelry regularly use recycled aggregate metals from computer parts and other electronic waste.  News recently surfaced that these products contain large amounts of cadmium.

Unbeknownst to the American public, a cottage industry in China sprung. It melts down computer parts and other electronic waste and sells the inexpensive aggregate metals to manufacturers of cheap jewelry.

This is terrible news for children and parents. Cheap jewelry, unlike expensive jewelry,  typically lies around, and often ends up the mouths of small children.

The impact on U.S. importers and distributors

How this impacts U.S.  importers and distributors for years to come:

  • The U.S. statute of limitations on children’s injuries is typically until their 18th birthday plus two years.  If research determines there are long-term effects of cadmium exposure for children, Product Liability lawsuits could last for a very long time.  And all those in the chain of commerce will likely have to participate. If the importers of the cheap Chinese jewelry have a Product Liability policy, liability limits will likely be exhausted quickly. Therefore, many distributors will probably participate in the settlements and judgments to make whole those injured by the defective products.
  • U.S. distributors of this jewelry will be subject to mandatory and immediate product recalls.  Most retailers and wholesalers do not require proof of third-party product recall liability insurance.  Therefore, the recall expense may fall completely on the retailers and wholesalers who sold the jewelry. This explains the trend of major retailers requiring proof of product recall insurance from their suppliers that includes third-party liability coverage.
  • Expect a swift reaction to cadmium by Product Liability insurance companies in the form of absolute cadmium exclusions.  Similar absolute lead policy exclusions currently exist. Such exclusions potentially leave importers and distributors of the defective jewelry personally liable for cadmium claims.

The good news and the bad news

The good news for the American consumer is the problem should be short-lived.  The current X-ray fluorescent technology (XRF) used in detecting lead amounts in products can also be used to detect cadmium.

The bad news is that China tends not to stop bad manufacturing processes quickly. It is likely that, at least in the immediate future, the use of recycled metals from computers and electronic parts to build cheap jewelry will continue.  These Chinese manufacturers may simply sell their cadmium-filled products in parts of the world unaware of the potential dangers. That’s easier  than taking the financial loss of recalling and destroying defective products.

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