Cadmium ingots. Image credit:NEYCO
Who has not heard of the recall of Chinese-made toys and jewelry containing high levels of lead? Which US importers of Chinese-made charm bracelets and such, having learned a lesson the hard way, were simple minded enough to specify only that "no lead" be used in production instead of specifying "no heavy metals" or "no other highly toxic materials?" Several of them, apparently. The story is all over the news now: kids jewelry actually manufactured mostly out of the extremely toxic, elemental cadmium. Why are Chinese manufacturers doing this?It's a big mystery in coverage by papers such as the Boston Globe, as explained in Cadmium found in trinkets from China. But, we do have a substantive hint from this story.
Sheila A. Millar, a lawyer representing the Fashion Jewelry Trade Association, said jewelry makers often opt for zinc these days. "While FJTA can only speak to the experience of its members,'' Millar wrote in an e-mail, "widespread substitution of cadmium is not something they see.''(my bold)
Green technology has been and will remain mixed up with cadmium.
If US newspapers had enough investigative reporters on staff they'd have uncovered the simple facts that cadmium, a byproduct of zinc manufacture, has been banned in many consumer applications throughout Europe and North America, and that demand for it is falling. (Zinc-to-cadmium ratios in typical zinc ores range from 200:1 to 400:1. Cadmium is still allowed in sealed, recyclable batteries, and apparently will be allowed in future CdTe solar photovoltaics. Both these applications are not in direct consumer contact.)
This opens up the question of whether zinc suppliers potentially have been ditching unsalable cadmium by mixing it with the relatively more expensive zinc? It also opens up the question of whether recycling of NiCad (Nickel-Cadmium) batteries used in cell phone and hybrid car batteries had led to a surplus of cadmium? Although consumer electronics makers and electric vehicle manufacturers are switching over to Lithium based battery chemistries, there will still be plenty of cadmium used in Cd-Telluride solar panels if that technology becomes cost effective. That should drive the price of Cd up and help keep it out of jewelry.
Zinc price trends. Image credit:MetalPrices.
What other surprises might Chinese industry have in store for US customers? Radiological waste and mercury amalgams possibly? Truthfully, they only do what we expect of them: make the cheapest possible goods. The only way to manage the risk of these or even worse materials being introduced where consumers are in direct contact (kids especially) is for importers to have the management systems in place to screen out the next deadly crap they will be amalgamating for our kids. What is American industry waiting for, Congress?