Cheap jewellery found to contain lead and other potentially toxic materials

‘Long-term lead exposure can damage the nervous system and be especially hazardous for children’ - HSA inspector

A significant percentage of cheap jewellery on sale in Ireland has been found to contain excessively high levels of lead, nickel, and other potentially toxic materials.

The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) took part in a European-wide project, coordinated by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), to test consumer products for restricted chemicals.

In total 5,500 products across 27 European Union countries were checked in a project titled REF-4 and around 18 per cent were found not to be in compliance with EU chemical safety regulations.

In Ireland, HSA inspectors checked low-budget jewellery as well as glues and adhesives for the presence of restricted chemicals.


Of the 37 jewellery products tested, inspectors found 8 per cent were non-compliant with the allowed levels for nickel, 13 per cent with the levels for lead, and 5 per cent with the levels for cadmium.

All non-compliant products were removed from the market.

"Exposure to excess nickel can cause dermatitis," said Kevin Buckley, senior inspector with the HSA. "Long-term lead exposure can damage the nervous system and be especially hazardous for children. Ingesting lower levels of cadmium, over a long period, can lead to kidney damage and cause bones to become fragile."

He said that one potential source of exposure could be if a piece of jewellery was swallowed or “is repeatedly sucked or mouthed. Exposure can also occur due to frequent hand-to-mouth contact after handling.”

Mr Buckley said importers, manufacturers and distributors had to be aware of the legal requirements governing the safety of products containing restricted chemicals.

“Retailers selling the products should check with their suppliers to ensure that their existing stock is compliant and all non-compliant stock should be removed from the shelves,” he said. “And finally consumers can also check the EU’s RAPEX system on the web, where potentially hazardous consumer products, identified across the EU, are listed weekly.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast