Is there danger lurking in your daughter's jewelry box?

Ask parents of 'tween girls and you'll find that, for the most part, they don't know.

Not only have many not heard of recent recalls of children's jewelry, but in addition, many aren't sure which pieces are included in the recalls.

"I'm also not sure just how much of a danger it is," says Charleston mom Laura Jackson.

Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued at least six recalls of jewelry and other children's products, most of it imported from China, because it's made with cadmium. From "Princess and the Frog" necklaces to Hannah Montana and "best friend" jewelry, all sorts of adornments have been removed from the shelves at stores popular with young girls, including Claire's, Limited Too, Justice and Walmart.

The most recent recall in mid-July involves 137,000 pieces of jewelry and 19 styles of necklaces, bracelets and earrings from hearts to butterflies, cupcakes and peace signs.

"I know my daughter shops at those stores, but I didn't know if she might have something that was recalled until I did some homework," says Erika Peterson of North Charleston. "I don't think we're in a high-risk group because she doesn't usually put stuff like that in her mouth, but why take a chance? I sat down in front of the computer with her jewelry box and checked it out. She had a couple of necklaces I wasn't sure about, so I tossed them in the trash."

In most cases, if you find you have recalled jewelry, you can return it to the store where you purchased it for a refund.

Since a 2008 law limited lead in children's products, cadmium has become a common substitute, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The CPSC has warned Asian manufacturers not to substitute cadmium in place of lead.

In January at the toy safety conference in Hong Kong, the CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum, former S.C. secretary of education, urged manufacturers not to substitute cadmium, antimony or barium in place of lead in children's products.

"All of us should be committed to keeping hazardous or toxic levels of heavy metals out of ... toys and children's products," Tenenbaum said, singling out cadmium. "Voluntary efforts will only take us so far."

Cadmium is regulated in painted toys, but not in children's jewelry, although it is No. 7 on the CDC's list of the 275 most hazardous substances in the environment. The CPSC can ban items with high cadmium content under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, but has never pursued an enforcement action against a product based on that authority, according to The Associated Press.

So far, the recalls have been voluntary, and no injuries have been reported.

But just what is cadmium?

It's a natural element in the Earth's crust. A soft, light-colored metal, it usually is found as a mineral combined with other elements such as oxygen, chlorine or sulfur, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

All soil and rocks, including coal and mineral fertilizers, contain some cadmium. It does not corrode easily and has many uses, including in batteries, pigments, metal coatings, and plastics.

The ways a person might be exposed to cadmium are by:

--Eating foods containing cadmium; low levels are found in all foods (the highest levels are found in shellfish, liver and kidney meat).

--Smoking cigarettes or breathing cigarette smoke.

--Breathing contaminated workplace air.

--Drinking contaminated water.

--Living near industrial facilities that release cadmium into the air.

Breathing high levels of cadmium can damage the lungs, kidneys and bones.

Eating food or drinking water with very high levels irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium in air, food or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease. Other long-term effects are lung damage and fragile bones.

The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that cadmium and cadmium compounds are known human carcinogens.

The recalls were prompted after an investigation by The Associated Press showed some of the jewelry contained 90 percent cadmium by weight.

For information on recalls, visit www.cdc.gov.

Brenda Rindge can be reached at 937-5713.