In response to AP's reporting, the CPSC said it did all it could given limited resources. A spokesman credited the agency's focus on intercepting jewelry before it got onto shelves as the reason that cadmium did not become the widespread scourge that lead was several years ago.
To be sure, the CPSC does have challenges.
Though the agency's resources have been growing, by federal standards the CPSC is a minnow â¿¿ a $115 million budget supports just 545 full-time employees responsible for regulating thousands of products.
And, under agency rules, it is difficult to mandate that a firm recall an item.
While CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum has claimed credit for reducing the presence of cadmium in children's jewelry, in fact, faster and more forceful efforts have come from elsewhere.
For example, major retailers including Wal-Mart and Target Corp. began requiring safety testing â¿¿ not the CPSC.
And new laws in six states and national legal settlements â¿¿ not the CPSC â¿¿ created strict, binding limits on cadmium in jewelry.
There are no known injuries or deaths due to cadmium in children's jewelry, but contaminated jewelry can poison in two ways: slow and steady through habitual licking and biting, or acutely through swallowing. The CPSC estimates that several thousand kids are treated annually at U.S. emergency rooms for accidentally ingesting jewelry.
Once in the body, cadmium stays for decades. If enough accumulates, it can cripple kidneys and bones â¿¿ and cause cancer.
To examine the agency's performance on the cadmium issue, the AP conducted three rounds of testing, analyzed hundreds of agency test results and reviewed hundreds of pages of internal documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Dozens of regulators, scientists, members of industry, or consumer advocates were interviewed.
National chain stores â¿¿ which closely manage their public images and invest in product testing â¿¿ appear to have cleaned up their inventories. Shops that sell discount jewelry are a different story.