Research on heavy metal contamination of consumer products - J Weidenhamer

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death.  Young children are most at risk, because their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the effects of lead than adults are.  As a result of a class project in one of our non-majors courses, my lab has investigated the lead content of inexpensive jewelry and toys.  This work has resulted in at least 14 recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission involving more than 1.5 million children’s jewelry and toys, and has been cited in a US Congressional resolution seeking a ban on US export of electronic waste.

We have found that:

Lead contamination of inexpensive jewelry was widespread when we first began our testing in 2006:

Weidenhamer, J. and M. Clement.  2007.  Widespread lead contamination of imported low-cost jewelry in the US.  Chemosphere, 67: 961-965.


The antimony content of very highly leaded jewelry items is similar to the content of lead acid battery alloys:

Weidenhamer, J. and M. Clement.  2007.  Evidence of recycling of lead battery waste into highly leaded jewelry.  Chemosphere, 69:1670-1672.


Other jewelry items contain proportions of lead, tin and copper which suggest that recycled electronic solders might be among the scrap sources used to manufacture these items:

Weidenhamer, J. and M. Clement.  2007.  Leaded electronic waste is a possible source material for lead-contaminated jewelry.  Chemosphere, 69: 1111-1115.


Lead in highly leaded jewelry items is accessible when tested for leaching in dilute (0.07 M) hydrochloric acid:

Yost, J.* and J. Weidenhamer.  2008.  Accessible and total lead in low-cost jewelry items.  Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 4:358-361. 


The presence of lead in coatings on plastic jewelry items and surface paint on seasonal products has been documented: 

Weidenhamer, J. 2008.  Lead contamination of inexpensive seasonal and holiday products.  Science of the Total Environment, 407: 2447-2450.  DOI:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2008.11.031


Yost, J.* and J. Weidenhamer.  2008.  Lead contamination of inexpensive plastic jewelry.  Science of the Total Environment, 393:348-350. 


* identifies undergraduate co-authors.

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For more information:


2007 Accent Magazine article   New Picture                                  2008 National Geographic article on e-waste


2008 Consumer Reports Feature    Consumer Reports logo         2009 Consumer Reports Blog




CBS News report on Ugly Teeth Recall    UglyTeeth


For more information on e-waste:


Basel Action Network

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