Lead – The Potential Killer

The Birmingham Assay Office has been inundated with requests for advice and additional testing since the recent National Press coverage with regard to unsafe levels of lead being found in some items of Children’s Jewellery and Toys.

Precious Metal jewellery is unlikely to contain any lead, but Costume Jewellery suppliers have been anxious to make sure they have taken enough preventative action to protect their customers from any potential danger.

Technical Director Dippal Manchanda says: “Lead is particularly dangerous because it accumulates in the body. Regular exposure to even very low doses may result in harmful levels which can badly damage the intellectual and behavioural development of infants and young children.

All responsible Costume Jewellery suppliers, particularly those producing products intended for children are all well aware of the dangers and we test many products every week to ensure they are not harmful.”

However, while all suppliers have a duty to ensure that their products are not dangerous, under the General Safety Regulation, other than for toys, there is no specific UK or European legislation with regards to ‘safe’ levels of lead content or release, nor the method by which this should be tested.

The Birmingham Assay Office offers its customers two options; the first is testing by ICP-OES to establish lead content by weight. In this case USA legislation defines a safe limit of 0.06% (600ppm) lead. This test is particularly appropriate for checking a product which has been specified as ‘lead free’ to ensure that there are only trace levels of lead present.

Alternatively products may be tested for release of lead. In Europe the closest parallel legislation is the Toy Safety Regulations which require items to be tested by BS EN 71.3 to establish the level of migration of lead and other dangerous elements from toys. This is obviously intended to ensure that articles which may be sucked or chewed by a child are safe and the permitted level is defined as less than 90 mg/Kg (equivalent to 0.009%, or 90ppm) leach able lead.

The Birmingham Assay Office has researched the legislation and testing protocols in Europe and North America extensively and is in a position to help all interested parties to protect the consumer and themselves.

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