Health and safety awareness does not only apply to the jewellery production process – it must also be taken into account by suppliers and retailers in order to protect customers.
Historically, health and safety issues for the jewellery industry have focused on the manufacturing process where intense heat and hazardous chemicals have presented an obvious danger. However, over the past two decades new concerns have emerged, this time concerning the health and safety of consumers wearing jewellery and other personal products. There is particular danger for children who are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins, and are also more likely to ‘misuse’ jewellery items by sucking, biting or even swallowing them.
The first concern was nickel, which can cause severe allergic reactions in those who are sensitised to it. The European Nickel Directive was drafted in 1993 and has been enforced throughout the EU since 2000. Since then other high risk substances have been identified, the two most relevant to the fine and costume industry being lead and cadmium.
Regulations to restrict the potential dangers of these toxins and carcinogens will eventually be included in the all embracing REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) directive, but at present the legislative requirements in the UK are not specific for jewellery although there are regulations in relation to lead, cadmium and other toxic elements in toys (ie safety of toys – BS EN 71-3:1995 – migration of certain elements).
It is therefore important that suppliers of both fine and costume jewellery understand the potential risks and take all reasonable steps to ensure their products are ‘safe’, as required by the General Product Safety Regulations 2005/1803.
Lead is toxic at very low levels of exposure. It accumulates in the body, and regular exposure to even very low quantities may badly damage intellectual and behavioural development in young children and have adverse health effects for adults.
In order to determine a ‘safe’ level of lead, the supply chain are looking to the American market where there are specific regulations. Until recently these allowed 600 parts per million (ppm) of lead in children’s products. This has recently been tightened and as of 14 August 2009, in the USA, children’s products may not contain more than 300ppm of lead, and the lead content of paint and other similar surface coatings must be 90ppm or less. Any products manufactured after that date must be tested and certificated by an accredited third party prior to sale in the US.
The Laboratory is UKAS accredited to the three methods defined by the new American Lead Safety Standard, the CPSIA – Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act 2008. However, these test methods are very stringent. The Laboratory also offers testing using our own UKAS accredited in-house method, which gives equally accurate results and is perfectly acceptable for companies supplying to any country except for the US.
Cadmium has traditionally been used in jewellery alloys to lower the melt temperature and improve fluidity. In recent years it has been proven that there is a serious toxicity problem with cadmium and some governments have now banned its use in jewellery alloys. Specific legislation to regulate its use is expected imminently in the USA.
Despite this, the Laboratory knows that cadmium is still being used in jewellery manufacture, particularly in the Far East. UK suppliers therefore need to adopt ‘due diligence’ procedures and demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that their products are safe. Many high street retailers are now carefully defining specifications and testing their jewellery for heavy toxic metals.
Dippal Manchanda, technical director, says: “Cadmium is a hot topic in the USA, and UK suppliers are increasingly concerned about it. The Laboratory is UKAS accredited to EN 71-3, the most frequently used method to assess cadmium release, and there is a growing demand for these tests. We also have accredited in-house methods based on international standards which determine the cadmium content of metals and plastics.
“Precious metal products rarely fail and there is a high compliance rate of over 95 per cent for costume jewellery, but we tend to find that where one product from a specific supplier fails, it is likely that all their products will be found to be non-compliant. We strongly recommend importers to interrogate, specify and random test products from new suppliers with regard to cadmium and lead compliance to ensure they do not fall foul of the Consumer Protection Act.”
Testing for cadmium compliance
To test for cadmium content each component is weighed and dissolved in an appropriate acidic matrix if metallic, or goes via different dissolution steps if non metallic. EN71-3 requires the item to be broken down into components and placed in an acidic solution for up to two hours, either stationary or in a shaker. The item is destroyed but if the item is metallic, only a small amount of metal will be physically dissolved, the remainder of the metallic item will be scrap. For example a metallic ring has a yellow coloured shank and white coloured head, this will be cut into two components, the items will be returned after the test and will probably show signs of corrosion etc. These items will then have to be scrapped; you will only lose a slight amount of precious metal content.
The item is weighed and processed through the test. The amount of toxic metals leached out are applied to the initial mass and then corrected with the applicable factor to give a result in mg/kg.
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