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Friends of Mel foundation recalls charity bracelets

Friends of Mel recalled 200,000 bracelets because of their high lead levels.
Friends of Mel recalled 200,000 bracelets because of their high lead levels.

The Friends of Mel Foundation, a local cancer charity that has raised more than $1 million for Massachusetts General Hospital by selling bracelets, today recalled about 200,000 of the beaded jewelry sold over the past two years because they contain high levels of lead. The foundation tested the bracelets last week after receiving an email that a 9-month-old boy apparently ingested lead from a bracelet.

Independent lab tests conducted on various bracelets by Massachusetts Materials Research Inc. showed that the multicolored beads contain no lead, but that the small silver-toned rings connecting the beads have a high lead content. The beads are from China and Turkey and the small rings are from China, according to Jackie Herskovitz, a foundation spokeswoman. Friends of Mel said the foundation was misled by a Chinese supplier, Ningbo Metal Manufacturing, who had promised in writing before signing a contract that the silver-toned rings did not contain lead. Ningbo could not be reached for comment late Friday evening.

"The organization feels like they were lied to and were given bad product," Herskovitz said. "It's such a shame."

Nancy Sterling, another foundation spokeswoman, could not identify the foreign supplier and said Friends of Mel has been unable to contact the family of the boy who had lead poisoning, but has reached out to the person who forwarded the e-mail. Sterling said the e-mail noted the boy was "doing well" but she did not have any information on whether he had been hospitalized.

The disclosure is the latest in a series of massive recalls in recent months, including more than 19 million toys, because of high levels of lead. Last year, Canton sneaker maker Reebok International Ltd. recalled more than 300,000 charm bracelets after one was linked to the lead-poisoning death of a 4-year-old in Minnesota. The bracelets, which were manufactured in China, were offered as gifts with the purchase of some children's footwear.

The issue has received national attention, with Congress holding hearings on the recalls over the past week. Massachusetts lawmakers and public health officials are also considering a ban on toys and jewelry containing lead.

The Friends of Mel bracelets were sold on the foundation's website and at about 100 small retail outlets, such as hair salons and boutiques, in Massachusetts and Florida. The merchants give all of the money from the bracelet sales to Friends of Mel.

The foundation declined to identify any of the stores but said all of the merchants were contacted and have taken the product off the shelves.

Friends of Mel said it has reached out to both the US Consumer Product and Safety Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Friends of Mel said it is still working out the details, but the organization will replace the jewelry with lead-free product.

The Friends of Mel Foundation was established in memory of Mel Simmons, a Rockland resident who died of breast cancer in 2005. Simmons was well-known for her cheerful personality and generosity. She often gave people little gifts -- including bracelets similar to the ones now sold by the foundation.

 SPECIAL REPORT: More recall coverage

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