Lead concern halts sale of ring

Inner Harbor store pulls child's product after letter from city health chief

August 05, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

A costume jewelry store in the Inner Harbor agreed to stop selling a pearl ring for young girls late yesterday after Baltimore's health commissioner threatened to ban the ring's sale because of its high lead content.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who has been the city's health commissioner since November, was prepared to issue his first order prohibiting the sale of a consumer product, a ring sold at Claire's Accessories in The Gallery at Harborplace. But after hearing his concern, the store's corporate parent agreed to pull the item voluntarily in Baltimore pending an investigation.

Sharfstein said the ring is one of a number of children's jewelry products sold in the city that the Health Department is testing for lead content, and he expects more announcements in the coming weeks about potentially hazardous items.

A test found that the ring - part of the "Princess Collection" in the Claire's Club line of products - tested as high as 6.8 percent lead by weight, "more than 100 times the standard for lead in paint," Sharfstein wrote in a letter to the company sent yesterday.

"If ingested by a child, this product could pose a serious health risk," the letter said.

Sharfstein said the company did not commit to pulling the ring anywhere except in Baltimore. Claire's operates more than 3,000 stores worldwide, including several in the Baltimore suburbs, at Towson Town Center, Eastpoint Mall, Glen Burnie Mall, White Marsh Mall and Security Square Mall.

But Marisa Jacobs, vice president of corporate communications and investor relations for Claire's, said the company is taking Sharfstein's letter "extremely seriously."

"Anything that could affect the health of our customers is something we will not ignore," she said.

Late yesterday, an attorney for Claire's sent Sharfstein a letter saying that it would pull two types of rings from its store in Baltimore: the one tested by the city Health Department and another one that is similar. The company sells 10,000 different items.

Jacobs said Claire's has been working for years to reduce the amount of lead in its jewelry for children. Lead content in children's jewelry is a national concern, heightened after a 4-year-old boy in Minneapolis died of lead poisoning in February after ingesting a Reebok charm bracelet.

Sharfstein said the Health Department's investigation of lead in children's jewelry was prompted in part by a series of reports by WMAR-TV, which reported this week that a Hilary Duff necklace sold at Claire's contains a high level of lead.

The Health Department reported its findings to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the commission, said she was not familiar with the particular situation in Baltimore, but that generally the commission investigates such reports by testing the jewelry to determine whether a nationwide recall is necessary. In making such a determination, she said, the commission looks both at a product's lead content and whether it is leaking the lead.

Nationwide, Vallese said, 165 million pieces of children's jewelry have been recalled because of lead content since 2004. The major danger with such jewelry comes when children put it in their mouths. She said parents of children who tend to fidget should be cautious about letting them wear inexpensive metal jewelry.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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