Yet the CPSC neither informed consumers nor initiated recall efforts. Instead, the agency asked a distributor where two of the items were found to destroy its inventory. For another item, the inspector only rounded up all samples in the store.

Spokesman Wolfson gave several reasons why the agency took no further action. Two of the items were discontinued in 2005, according to the distributor, which meant "a recall was not warranted" â¿¿ despite the 2011 purchase. One had packaging that didn't identify the manufacturer or distributor. And in the three other cases, field inspectors had picked up jewelry that they thought was for children but that agency headquarters decided was actually for adults.

"We firmly believe that we took the right action based upon the work we did and the information we gathered," Wolfson said.

Because there were no recalls, the agency can't reveal what the products were or where they were bought.

Aside from the jewelry sweep, in at least two cases the agency let major retailers avoid informing the public that they had pulled jewelry after their testing turned up cadmium.

In May 2010, Wal-Mart announced it had removed "the few products" that failed checks it started doing on children's jewelry; it did not identify the items. The retailing giant had started running a European Union safety test that was similar to the stomach-acid test the CPSC used.

Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said that despite failing a safety test, the items were not dangerous. He would not share the results.

"We're talking about components within these items that just didn't rise to the level where it posed a safety risk," he said.

Because Wal-Mart unilaterally yanked the products, no public notification was required by CPSC â¿¿ and Wal-Mart gave none.

The agency never pressed for a recall of items that had already been sold.

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