Children’s jewelry is turning up with high levels of the heavy metal cadmium. Ironically, the toxic substance is being used because of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which severely limited the use of lead in many products. As a result, manufacturers in China have turned to the even more toxic cadmium (you have to love this sort of logic). The discovery has led some politicians to call for a ban on cadmium for use in children’s jewelry, which begs the question, why isn’t it banned in the first place?

The reason, it seems, lies in the fact that cadmium is simply not found very often in consumer products. In fact, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for monitoring the safety of children’s toys, has never recalled an item because of cadmium problems.

The current governmental safety guidelines do no adequately address the dangers of cadmium to consumers. While in certain instances federal consumer protection regulations do affect the heavy metal, they only apply to painted toys, and jewelry is not included in the equation. Because of this, the sale of the toxic trinkets is legal. The jewelry is being sold across the United States, and according to the story reported by the AP, has been found at many prominent retailers.

To arrive at their findings, reporters obtained over 100 pieces of children’s jewelry throughout New York, Ohio, Texas, and California. After testing them for cadmium, they discovered that 12 percent of the pieces of jewelry contained at least 10 percent cadmium. In the worst cases, the cadmium levels were as high as 91%. Furthermore, some of the items were found to shed the cadmium, adding to the danger.

Cadmium is a heavy metal and a known carcinogen. It is similar to lead in that it affects brain development, particularly in young children. What makes the substance especially worrisome is that children don’t have to swallow the offending item, exposure can happen by sucking on or biting an object. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) list of the 275 most hazardous substances in our environment, cadmium makes the top ten, falling in at #7

For now, it might not be a bad idea to be wary of what your kids put into their mouths, especially jewelry. Practice discretion and common sense. If you feel your kids have been exposed to cadmium, contact your health care professional. For more information, check out the websites for the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the CDC.