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EcoWaste warns about cadmium content in lucky charm bracelets

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The toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition is warning luck seekers from buying charm bracelets adorned with metal components containing extremely high concentrations of cadmium, a chemical that is linked to various types of cancer.

The group, which has been campaigning against toxic metals like cadmium, lead, mercury and other chemicals of concern, made the timely warning as people started to flock to Chinatown and adjacent places to buy charms that are supposed to attract good health and fortune in time for the celebration of the Chinese New Year of the Wood Dragon on February 9. 

As part of its periodic market monitoring, the group went to Binondo and Quiapo, Manila to get charm bracelets sold for P25 to P75 each.  The items  were subsequently screened for toxic metals using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer.

Out of the 23 charm bracelets bought and analyzed, 17 were all found to contain cadmium in excess of 100,000 parts per million (ppm).  Cadmium was detected on the dragon or Pi Yao (an auspicious and mythical creature) metal components of the beaded or red string bracelets.

In Europe, cadmium in jewelry is restricted to 0.01 % (or 100 ppm) by weight of the metal in metal beads and other metal components for jewelry making,  metal parts of jewelry and imitation jewelry articles and  hair accessories, including bracelets, necklaces and rings, piercing jewelry, wrist-watches and wrist-wear, brooches and cufflinks as per EU Regulation 494/2011.

The said charm bracelets discovered by the EcoWaste Coalition with high cadmium content would be illegal to sell in Europe, the EcoWaste Coalition emphasized.  As publicized at the Safety Gate, the EU rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products, many jewelry articles have been banned or removed from the market due to cadmium, which is “harmful to human health because it accumulates in the body, can damage the kidneys and bones and it may cause cancer," according to the EU.

Cadmium, a heavy metal with symbol Cd and atomic number 48, is classified as “carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  Cadmium is, according to the US National Cancer Institute, “primarily associated with human lung, prostate, and kidney cancers, and recently pancreatic cancer,” as well as with “cancers of the breast and urinary bladder.”

Cadmium exposure is further associated with reproductive and developmental disorders, including  premature birth, reduced birth weight, stillbirth, spontaneous abortion and birth defects , as well with behavioral and learning disabilities.

“There is no point to add metal components on charm bracelets that are known to cause adverse health effects,” the EcoWaste Coalition insisted.  “The fact that cadmium was not detected on six of the 23 analyzed charm bracelets indicates that such products can be produced sans health-damaging chemicals,” the group pointed out.

The WHO has listed cadmium among the 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern. To protect human health, WHO has recommended, among other interventions, “the elimination of use of cadmium in products such as toys, jewelry and plastics.”

Cadmium is likewise included in the Philippine Priority Chemicals List.  However, cadmium in products such as jewelry is not covered by the Chemical Control Order (CCO) issued in 2021 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB).   Nonetheless, “the use of products not containing cadmium is encouraged to prevent and minimize the release of cadmium to the environment,” the CCO stated.

To prevent  and reduce human exposure to cadmium, the EcoWaste Coalition backed the use of non-toxic substitutes to cadmium in jewelry making. It also advised consumers to insist on their right to chemicals in product information, and for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers to recognize such right by labeling and disclosing the identity of chemicals in their products.  

"Transparency in the chemicals that make up a product, as well as the hazards they pose to health and the environment, should be made mandatory in line with the consumers' right to know," the watchdog group asserted.

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