Title: [GreenYes] WSJ Article on Lead Solder recycling in jewelry
Another angle - lead solder from the exports isn't dumped, it's
Lead Toxins Take a Global Round Trip
'E-Waste' From Computers
Discarded in West Turns Up
In China's Exported Trinkets
By GORDON FAIRCLOUGH
July 12, 2007; Page B1
YIWU, China -- High levels of toxic lead turning up in cheap jewelry
from China are prompting recalls in the U.S. But some of the lead used
by these Chinese manufacturers comes from an unconventional source:
computers and other electronic goods discarded in Western countries
and dumped in China.
Liu Mouye, owner of the Yiwu Yiming Alloy Factory here, says the lead
alloy she sells to jewelry makers around Yiwu -- an important hub for
low-priced Chinese exports -- is made in part from so-called e-waste
that arrives by ship in southern China from the U.S. and other
"I've seen the containers come in," Ms. Liu says. "Each one has about
60 tons of parts removed from machines and appliances" from abroad.
Two recent studies suggest lead from such sources is turning up in
Chinese-made jewelry sold at U.S. discount stores and malls -- closing
a globalization loop in which toxic materials from high-tech garbage
are turned into potentially dangerous goods for kids and shipped back.
Jewelry and key chains at the wholesale market in Yiwu, China
Jeffrey Weidenhamer and Michael Clement, chemists at Ashland
University in Ohio, studied the composition of children's highly
leaded jewelry and key chains found in stores last year and determined
that some also contained levels of copper and tin that suggested the
source was lead solder used in electronic circuit boards. Other
jewelry samples were also found to contain antimony, a toxic metalloid
element used to harden lead used in batteries.
The United Nations estimates that up to 50 million tons of e-waste is
thrown away world-wide each year. Large amounts are shipped into
China, even though the country's laws essentially ban imports of e-
waste, according to China's State Environmental Protection
For lead, the trip to China from the U.S. typically goes something
like this: U.S. consumers and businesses send their old electronics to
recycling firms -- often by way of innocuous recycling drives. Some of
those firms then sell the electronics to dealers in the U.S., who sell
them to dealers in China. Chinese companies buy the e-waste and strip
lead and other re-sellable materials from it -- often discarding
harmful materials along the way, adding to local pollution. Those
firms then sell the recovered lead to alloy makers like Ms. Liu, who
provide it to Chinese manufacturers. The lead makes its way --
sometimes at toxic levels -- into trinkets sold to consumers in the
"This 'return-to-sender' issue is really important," says Ted Smith,
founder of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an organization in San
Jose, Calif., focused on the environmental impact of the high-tech
industry. Mr. Smith points out an added irony: Many of the electronics
consumed in the U.S. are manufactured in China in the first place.
"Talk about globalization," he says. "If you drew a map of this, the
arrows would go in lots of different directions."
A worker at the Yiwu Zhongtai Ornament Co.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it doesn't regulate the
export of most old electronics, including cellphones and the circuit
boards that make computers run, in either a "shredded" or intact form,
because it considers them non-hazardous. In January, however, the
agency began enforcing a new rule specific to cathode-ray tubes -- the
TV and computer display screens that are commonly known as CRTs and
contain lead. Now, exporters of intact or broken CRTs destined for
recycling must notify the EPA of the export and get permission from
the country importing the CRTs before doing so.
The EPA doesn't have any laws that ban the export of non-hazardous
waste -- so if what it defines as non-hazardous waste is sent to
another country, it doesn't know. "We have had some very general
inquiries from the Chinese government saying they want to discuss this
area, but we do not generally get requests from China regarding the
shipped materials," says Bob Tonetti, an e-waste expert at the EPA.
Amid rising concerns about the safety of exports from China, lead has
become a particular focus -- especially in items made for children.
This year the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued 18
recall notices affecting more than 6.7 million pieces of jewelry for
children and teenagers that it says contain dangerous levels of lead
-- almost all of it made in China. That's a sharp increase from 10
lead-related recalls in 2006 and three the year before that.
"In recent years, we've seen an influx of metal children's jewelry"
that has "high levels of accessible lead," says agency spokesman Scott
Public-health officials have been fighting for years to keep lead out
of children's jewelry. Lead has even turned up in snaps on Chinese-
made overalls and shirts for babies and toddlers and on gardening
gloves for kids. Ingested, it can cause brain damage and death. The
risk is highest for young children, who are more likely to mouth or
swallow pieces of jewelry. A new California law essentially limits the
lead content of the base metal in children's jewelry to 0.06% starting
Sept. 1. (New regulations for adult jewelry go into effect March 1.)
The Consumer Product Safety Commission uses the 0.06% limit as a
guideline on children's jewelry and has proposed it as a federal
Lead alloy scrap at the Yiwu Zhongtai Ornament Co.
The recalled jewelry ranged from "Best Friends Forever" necklaces sold
at accessories retailer Claire's Stores Inc. to necklace and earring
sets with plastic "birthstones" sold by Sears Holdings Corp.'s Kmart
stores. The commission has also issued recalls this year for Chinese-
made toys coated with lead paint.
Enforcement efforts have escalated since a child died last year in
Minneapolis of acute lead poisoning after swallowing a Chinese-made
charm from a bracelet given away with Reebok sneakers.
A spokeswoman for Claire's didn't return a call seeking comment.
Christian Brathwaite, a spokesman for Sears Holdings, says "Kmart
takes customers' safety very seriously," adding: when a "product has
been identified as having an issue with lead, we've stopped selling
In China, however, lead alloy remains a favored material for costume-
jewelry makers. It is plentiful and cheap, often selling for half the
price of zinc alloy, the other metal mixture commonly used to make
costume jewelry. Lead has a relatively low melting point, which makes
it easier to work with, and lends heft to inexpensive jewelry.
The Chinese government sets limits on lead content in toys, but not in
jewelry for children or adults. Many other countries also lack legal
limits or fail to enforce them.
Costume-jewelry pendants displayed for sale at the Yiwu wholesale
Companies like Ms. Liu's and other metal traders and alloy
manufacturers say they buy lead from recyclers, mix it with other
materials and sell it to jewelry makers in Yiwu and Qingdao in eastern
Shandong province, two centers of costume-jewelry production in China.
Nationwide, China's costume-jewelry industry has annual sales of about
$4.5 billion -- and about 70% is exported.
In Yiwu, jewelry sellers make no secret of using toxic lead alloy in
their products. They insist buyers know what they're getting and say
using lead is the only way to offer the low prices that foreign
purchasers are willing to pay.
Wang Xubin, the owner of Xu Lin Decoration Co., specializes in making
costume jewelry for teenagers. His raw material of choice: a metal
alloy that he says is 70% to 80% lead. The metal is molded into
bracelets and pendants in the shape of crosses, eagles, dragons and
crowns. "We do what our customers want. If they ask for no lead, we
can do it," says Mr. Wang. "But a lot of Americans see the cost of
lowering the lead content and say: 'forget it.'"
At Yiwu Zhongtai Ornament Co.'s factory on the outskirts of Yiwu,
ingots of lead alloy are melted down in large crucibles. Young men
then ladle the molten metal -- about 55% to 60% lead, according to the
company -- by hand into rubber molds. On a recent visit, none of the
workers was wearing protective facemasks or gloves.
Pieces of molded metal are then popped out, filed and plated with a
thin coat of another metal, often a mixture of gold and silver or
palladium. They are then assembled by rows of workers soldering and
placing fake gemstones on the necklaces and earrings.
"It's too costly to make lead-free products," says owner Wang Qinjuan.
"Chinese products have to be sold cheaply in foreign markets, or they
are not competitive."
Some manufacturers say they are moving away from lead alloy at the
request of customers, especially those from the U.S. and Western
Europe. Nearly all say that, if a buyer wants them to, factories can
lower the lead content of their products. "People can choose. We give
them whatever they want," says Ni Lanzhen, a wholesaler of jewelry and
trinkets, including a tiny ring topped with a lead flower. "But most
of the market is lead alloy."
Some importers, on the other hand, complain insuring product quality
from China can be difficult. Myles Marks, an employee of DM
Merchandising in Elmhurst, Ill., says that his company stepped up
testing after authorities discovered that some Chinese-made bracelets
contained lead, which the company was unaware of. "There are items
we've had to test and retest three and four times," says Mr. Marks,
when they fail to meet lead standards. "It's a colossal pain. And it's
Mr. Marks says that sometimes Chinese suppliers will "do the old bait
and switch," winning an order with a product that meets an importer's
specifications and then mass producing the items with cheaper, lead-
containing, materials. But while many companies express frustration,
few, including DM Merchandising, are willing to publicly identify
their Chinese suppliers.
Meanwhile, the e-waste problem is attracting the attention of some
lawmakers. Congressman Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign
Affairs Committee, recently sent a letter to the U.S. Government
Accountability Office expressing concern about the practice of
exporting e-waste from the U.S. to foreign countries. Prompted by the
letter, the GAO plans to begin research on the topic soon.
"We need this study to get an idea of the problem's global scope," Mr.
Lantos said in an email. "I am concerned that U.S. consumers who
recycle computers and other electronic equipment may be led to believe
that they are doing good when in fact they are doing harm."