With the Chinese New Year just around the corner, lucky charm ornaments and accessories that are believed to attract good health and fortune are most sought after. But beware, some of such lucky items could pose a cancer-risk.

Philippines toxics watchdog group Ecowaste Coalition has found lucky charm bracelets adorned with metal components containing extremely high concentrations of cadmium, a chemical that is linked to various types of cancer.

Out of the 23 charm bracelets bought and analysed in its recent survey, 17 had cadmium in excess of 100,000 parts per million (ppm). Cadmium was detected on the dragon or Pi Yao (an auspicious and mythical creature) metal components of the beaded or red string bracelets.

The above high-cadmium bracelets would be illegal in Europe, where cadmium in jewellery is restricted to 0.01% (or 100 ppm) by weight of the metal in metal beads and other metal components for jewellery making, metal parts of jewellery and imitation jewellery articles and hair accessories, including bracelets, necklaces and rings, piercing jewellery, wrist-watches and wrist-wear, brooches and cufflinks.

Under the European Union (EU) rapid alert system for dangerous non-food products, many jewellery articles have been banned or removed from the market due to cadmium, which is “harmful to human health because it accumulates in the body, can damage the kidneys and bones and it may cause cancer”, according to the EU.

Cadmium, a heavy metal with symbol Cd and atomic number 48, is classified as “carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Cadmium is, according to the US National Cancer Institute, “primarily associated with human lung, prostate, and kidney cancers, and recently pancreatic cancer”, as well as with “cancers of the breast and urinary bladder”.

Cadmium exposure is further associated with reproductive and developmental disorders, including premature birth, reduced birth weight, stillbirth, spontaneous abortion and birth defects, as well with behavioural and learning disabilities.

The WHO has listed cadmium among the 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern. To protect human health, WHO has recommended, among other interventions, “the elimination of use of cadmium in products such as toys, jewellery and plastics”.

Cadmium is likewise included in the Philippine Priority Chemicals List.

To prevent and reduce human exposure to cadmium, the EcoWaste Coalition backs the use of non-toxic substitutes to cadmium in jewellery making. “The fact that cadmium was not detected on 6 of the 23 analysed charm bracelets indicates that such products can be produced sans health-damaging chemicals,” the group pointed out.

It also advises consumers to lobby for chemical disclosures in product information, and for manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers to recognise consumers’ right to know by labelling and disclosing the identity of chemicals in their products.