Attorney General Lockyer Announces Court Approves Settlement With Wal-Mart To Reduce Lead In Costume Jewelry

Thursday, April 20, 2006
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

(SACRAMENTO) –Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced the court has approved a settlement with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which adds Wal-Mart to the list of over 70 U.S. retailers and distributors who will dramatically reduce the levels of lead in costume jewelry, particularly in jewelry sold to children and teenagers, an age group that is especially vulnerable to the health impacts from exposure to lead.

"This case is a success story showing how Proposition 65, California’s premier right-to-know law, protects our families and communities from the health risks resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals in our environment,” said Lockyer. “The power of the law has given the costume jewelry industry incentive to reduce and eliminate lead from their products in order to avoid having to warn consumers about the health risks. We are pleased Wal-Mart has joined the settlement.”

The settlement with major U.S. companies, which initially was approved in February and which Wal-Mart now has joined, requires the companies and their suppliers to meet new standards for lead-free and low-lead jewelry and to meet those standards as quickly as possible, but no later than March 2008. After that date, they are required to halt sales in California of any product not meeting these tough new standards for lead content.

Lockyer filed the lawsuit in June 2004, alleging defendant retailers violated Proposition 65 by failing to warn consumers about the health risks of exposure to the lead contained in certain jewelry. Proposition 65 requires such warnings when consumers are exposed to substances known by the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm. Filing with Lockyer were the Center for Environmental Health and As You Sow, private parties that had filed 60-day notices with the Attorney General’s office notifying their intent to sue under Proposition 65, and that worked closely with the Attorney General throughout the litigation and the mediation.

In December 2004 the retailers agreed to mediate. A group of 38 jewelry distributors voluntarily joined the mediation and the settlement.

Together with Wal-Mart, the defendants have agreed to pay a total of $1.9 million, including $100,000 in civil penalties; $250,000 for a jewelry testing fund; $329,000 to educate consumers about the health risks from exposure to lead and other heavy metals; and the remainder in attorneys fees. In addition, 17 other companies that were not sued have opted to join the settlement voluntarily and to comply with the stringent lead standards, in order to resolve potential liability.

Lead has been listed under Proposition 65 since 1987 as a chemical that can cause reproductive harm and birth defects, and has been on the list of chemicals known to cause cancer since 1992. The state’s testing found high levels of lead in both the metallic and non-metallic components of the jewelry targeted in the case. The amounts were well above the level that triggers the requirement to provide a Proposition 65 warning to consumers.

Exposure to lead occurs chiefly from ingestion, such as eating or putting objects into the mouth, putting young children particularly at risk. Teenagers also can suffer adverse effects, which include brain damage, kidney damage, hearing loss, and impaired growth.

Companies that entered the initial settlement include Burlington Coat Factory, CBI Distributing, Claire’s Boutiques, Claire’s Stores, Express, Federated Department Stores, J.C. Penney, KMart, Macy’s West, Mervyn’s, Nordstrom, Ross, Sears, Target and Toys R Us. Wal-Mart joined last month, and was approved today. Companies that have notified the Attorney General of their intent to join the settlement voluntarily include The Gap, Saks, Inc., Greenbrier International (aka Dollar Tree Stores), Reebok International, and QVC, Inc. Remaining as litigants in the action by Center for Environmental Health are Jordache, Cornerstone Apparel (Papaya stores), the Gerson Company, and Royal Items.

A copy of the original settlement is available at
under "People v. Burlington."

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