Toxic-waste jewellery may be on sale in NZ
By KATHY WEBB - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 8 August 2007

An American chemistry professor who discovered toxic jewellery is being made in China from electronic waste and car batteries says the products are probably on sale in New Zealand.

Consumer Affairs Ministry product safety adviser Alan Collins said officials knew of the dangerous jewellery, which had been recalled in the United States and Australia.

Staff had been asked to keep an eye out for any similar items when they were making "proactive visits to retailers".

"So far we have not identified any of the jewellery that has been specifically recalled in the US," Mr Collins said.

Nor had there been any complaints from the public.

However, people who were worried their cheap jewellery might contain high lead levels should just throw it away, he said.

US chemistry professor Jeffrey Weidenhamer, of Ashland University in Ohio, spent a year testing a wide range of items including charms, religious-icon key rings, bracelets and watches.

He blew the whistle after finding dangerously high levels of lead.

Since January, US distributors have recalled more than eight million lead-contaminated items from sale, including jewellery, toys and clothing.

Dr Weidenhamer told The Dominion Post it was likely New Zealand had imported lead-contaminated jewellery.

"It would be reasonable to expect that it would be a problem there as well as in the US. The only sure way would be to have some samples tested," he said.

Children in particular could be harmed or even killed by the high lead content - up to 100 per cent in some items.

No amount of lead was safe for a child younger than three, he said.

Dr Weidenhamer set about discovering where the metal in the jewellery he tested came from, and was dismayed to find much of it originated in electronic waste exported from North America to China, where workers in hazardous scrap dumps collect buckets of solder melted down from circuit boards and old car batteries.

The solder is recycled into jewellery items.

"Many were designed for children, but there were many items like key chains that would not normally be considered to be children's jewellery items and therefore not regulated in the US.

"A key chain in the first batch of samples we analysed was almost 100 per cent lead," Dr Weidenhamer said.

Pointers to identifying pieces with high lead content could include a greyish colour producing an antique pewter appearance, heaviness for size, and perhaps a grey mark produced by rubbing on white paper.

Green MP Sue Kedgley said it was time for an overhaul of consumer safety law.

"At the moment we wait for overseas scandals to emerge. No one is doing any monitoring or checking, even on a random basis. I don't have any confidence that our ministry is on top of it."

From here .