Children love to play with shiny things, whether they are packaged in a kid-friendly wrapper, found on top of mom’s dresser, or on the shelves of stores popular with tweens.  For this reason parents should be on alert that Canadian retailers are selling jewelry with alarmingly high levels of cadmium, a harmful heavy metal, a CBC investigation found.

While Health Canada has a policy to keep toxic heavy metals out of kids’ jewelry, there is no similar guideline for adult jewelry. But how do kids or parents know the difference? Stores like Ardene are popular with kids around age 12, not to mention adult jewelry that kids may find at home. Sadly, a new study found items there that were made with up to 7,000 times the allowable amount of cadmium for children’s products.

CBC’s Marketplace conducted the investigation into cadmium in costume jewelry in Canada and even travelled to factories in China where the products were made. The results are shocking – and show an urgent need to update Canadian regulations to keep toxic jewelry off the shelves.

Cadmium is a highly toxic metal, and cheap to use in manufacturing. While rules around lead use have been tightened in many countries, some manufacturers turned to similarly toxic cadmium as a replacement. Such substitution of one toxic heavy metal for another is putting Canadians at risk in the absence of adequate regulations.

Skin exposure to cadmium isn’t harmful per se, but swallowing the heavy metal can lead to damage to bones, liver and the brain – among other health effects. If there is inadequate iron in their diet, a person who ingests cadmium will absorb even more of the toxic substance. Also at risk are industrial workers exposed to the heavy metal: cadmium dust inhalation has been linked to lung cancer and other conditions.

In Europe cadmium is banned from all jewelry. So why isn’t Canada following suit? The best way to prevent kids from accidentally swallowing this toxic substance, and to prevent cadmium jewels from contaminating soil and water in landfills, is to enact similar measures to those in Europe, including monitoring and enforcement in Canada.

In the meantime, think twice before buying cheap costume jewelry, especially if there are kids in the house. Better safe than sorry.