The agency's investigator bought all the samples at the shop, but didn't look to see whether the pendant was sold elsewhere, CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said.
"We've got to make some tough decisions with our investigators in terms of when they stay on the trail," Wolfson said. "There needs to be a rationale for it."
In January 2010, Tenenbaum mobilized her agency in reaction to AP's initial investigation. She told parents to toss cheap metal trinkets and promised to investigate all high-cadmium jewelry the agency learned about.
While five jewelry recalls followed, none began at the agency's initiative. The first three covered products AP highlighted; the last two came after companies approached the CPSC. All the recalls were voluntary.
Then the recalls stopped, though not because the CPSC thought cadmium was gone from the marketplace.
Instead of clearing contaminated products from store shelves, the agency focused on a policy of restricting future flow. At first, that meant warning Asian manufacturers to stop substituting cadmium for lead. Later, the agency started scattered cargo checks at U.S. ports and pressed a private-sector group led by the jewelry industry to adopt voluntary cadmium limits.
It took nearly two years for those standards to be enacted. And while several cadmium jewelry shipments were intercepted, with just 19 inspectors at 15 ports, the agency touches a minuscule fraction of the billions of consumer goods that enter the U.S. each year.
At a product safety conference in March, Tenenbaum claimed victory: "The proactive steps we have taken in China, at the ports, and in the standards environment have stopped cadmium from being the next lead."
But it wasn't until early 2011, a full year after AP's original report, that the agency had began seriously checking children's jewelry on store shelves. Even then, the scale of sampling was not great enough to draw broad conclusions.