Product Liability

Chinese manufacturers substitute toxic cadmium for lead

Earlier this month, the Associated Press exposed yet another disturbing Chinese trade secret when it reported that some manufacturers in China are making children’s jewelry with the highly toxic metal cadmium. Children’s jewelry now joins the growing list of dangerous and sometimes deadly products pouring into the United States from China – a list that includes toys covered with lead paint, pet food and baby formula tainted with melamine, sulfuric drywall that has ruined thousands of homes, and other poorly made or defective merchandise.

Evidence suggests that Chinese manufacturers are turning to cadmium as a substitute for lead, which the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission effectively banned last year for use in the very products in which cadmium is now being found, primarily children’s toys, furniture, and other items.

Unfortunately, as one AP report indicated, if American consumers look for a conscience or an error behind the decisions made by some Chinese manufacturers, they may instead find a willful and unapologetic profit-first attitude.

“Business is business, and it’s all up to our client,” said He Huihua, manager of a jewelry manufacturing company in Yiwu, China, to the AP.

“We just make what our clients order. If they pay more, we use the better raw material, and vice-versa. From a few cents to a few dollars, we can make the same style of jewelry product with a different raw material,” he told the AP.

When the AP asked for his opinion on the toxic qualities and health risks of cadmium and other heavy metals, he responded, “I can’t be overly concerned about that.”

The willingness to produce children’s jewelry with cadmium is itself the direct product of a shrewd, highly frugal, and opportunistic approach to business embraced by so many Chinese manufacturers. When American retail giants demand rock-bottom prices for Chinese-made products, the manufacturers seek ways to deliver the goods while preserving their profit, even if that means using cheap and plentiful metals with toxic qualities.

Sometimes Chinese manufacturers will use the toxic metals as lucrative substitutes without notifying their American clients of the switch.

Non-toxic metals, such as zinc, are often combined with cadmium and other toxic metals, then classified as zinc alloys and used in production, even though the “alloys” might contain as little as ten percent zinc.

The Chinese government does have strict regulations for the use of cadmium in consumer products, but enforcement is lax and even nonexistent in the country’s industrial regions.

Chinese authorities said that they would investigate the matter immediately. Whether that’s an empty gesture is something the CPSC and American retailers will have to determine.