LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Federal regulators expanded their efforts Thursday to go after children's jewelry that contains high levels of the toxic metal cadmium by telling parents to throw away "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"-themed charm bracelets.
The warning from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission came after agency scientists found that the jewelry released alarmingly high levels of cadmium in lab tests, potentially exposing children to a carcinogen that also can damage kidneys and bones.
The action represents the second cadmium-related recall the government has carried out since an Associated Press investigation earlier this year found that some children's jewelry was made almost entirely with the heavy metal. About 55,000 "The Princess and The Frog" pendants sold at Walmart stores were recalled in the weeks after the AP published its initial findings.
Now the government is targeting "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" chain-link bracelets sold at dollar-type stores between 2006 and March 2009. The charms feature characters from the classic Christmas movie, including Rudolph and the abominable snowman.
As part of their investigation, safety commission scientists bathed the snowman in a liquid that simulates stomach acid to assess how much cadmium a child who swallowed it could be exposed to. The charm shed more than 20,000 micrograms of the metal in 24 hours -- that translates into more cadmium than World Health Organization guidelines deem a safe exposure over 86 weeks for a 33-pound child.
The agency said in its announcement that there have been no known cadmium poisonings associated with the bracelets. Cadmium poisoning has not been widely studied or looked for and the agency said it is interested in receiving any reports of incidents or injuries.
Cadmium emerged as a safety concern earlier this year after the AP investigation revealed that lab tests conducted on 103 pieces of low-priced children's jewelry found 12 items with cadmium content above 10 percent of the total weight. In the testing done for AP, the Rudolph charm contained 91 percent cadmium.
One reason for the use of cadmium is that federal law now tightly restricts how much lead can be used in children's jewelry, but it does not explicitly ban cadmium's use.
The total number of Rudolph bracelets sold isn't known, the agency said, because the company that imported them from China is no longer in business. That company -- Buy-Rite Designs, Inc. of Freehold, N.J. -- was the subject of two separate charm bracelet recalls in 2007 due to high lead content.
A group that represents more than 200 jewelry producers, suppliers and retailers said in a statement "cadmium is not being widely substituted for lead" and that children's trinkets are safe.
"Available data indicates that children's jewelry does not contain levels of cadmium that could cause health risks," said Michael Gale, executive director of the Fashion Jewelry and Accessory Trade Association. "If there are isolated cases where a potential concern exists, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has the ability to follow established processes to address the issue."
That is what the agency did Thursday -- just its second recall related to cadmium. The agency has acted aggressively in recent months after several years of ignoring scattered test results showing high levels of cadmium in children's jewelry provided by consumer advocates. Agency officials said they had to focus its limited resources on the dangers posed by lead in children's jewelry and faulty products such as cribs.
The commission's current efforts have included guidance from its chairman that parents should toss any piece of inexpensive metal jewelry, noting that children who chew, suck on or swallow a piece of jewelry may be exposing themselves to cadmium or lead. The commission continues to investigate the issue, spokesman Scott Wolfson said.