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Lead-Tainted Purses; Do You Have One?


It has been brought to our attention that recent testing by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has found that some major retailers and purse makers are still not doing enough to end health threats to women from lead-tainted purses and other accessories. CEH and more than 200 companies have legal agreements that commit the companies to strict limits on lead in their products. CEH notified eleven companies of their continued sales of lead-containing fashion accessories, and earlier this summer the nonprofit notified another three companies about their repeated sales of lead-tainted items.

Since May, testing by CEH has found 7 lead-tainted purses and other accessories at the national retail chain Forever21, which targets young women and boasts that it has “been chosen as one of the top three teen shopping brands nationwide.” CEH has also recently found 8 lead-tainted wallets at Target, in animal-designs and with colorful images aimed at “tween” girls. Other stores and brands CEH has found repeatedly selling lead-containing purses or wallets include Nordstroms, TJ Maxx, Macy’s, Ralph Lauren, and Lulu (Fantasia Accessories Inc). (See a full list, below)

“Overall we’ve seen progress in eliminating lead from purses, but clearly a few companies need to do more to clean up their act,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director at CEH. “It’s especially scary when stores catering to ‘tweens’ and young women continue to have lead problems, since lead can remain in girls’ bodies and pose health threats when they become pregnant.”

Federal law limits lead in children’s products, but there is no federal standard for lead in adult handbags or wallets. In June 2010, CEH set a landmark industry standard by reaching legal agreements with more than 40 major retailers and vendors of handbags and other accessories sold in stores nationwide. More than two hundred companies have now signed similar agreements with CEH.

Since this spring, CEH has found more than 50 lead-tainted purses and accessories sold by 14 of the retailers or brands that have settlement agreements with CEH.  Under the agreements, lead in purses and other accessories generally must not exceed 300 parts per million (ppm); but lab testing showed that 12 of the 50 lead-tainted items contained more than 10,000 ppm of lead.

Lead exposure has been linked to higher rates of infertility in women, an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure, among other health problems. Scientists are increasingly concerned that there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially for pregnant women and young children. A recent study concluded that lead exposure during pregnancy could have “lasting and possibly permanent effects” on a child’s IQ, and another study showed that lead exposure during the first trimester (three month period), when some women are not even aware that they are pregnant, had the most pronounced effects on a child’s mental development. A 2009 study showed that chronic low-level lead exposures in young women could lead to impaired mental functioning as they age.

CEH has a fifteen-year track record of protecting communities from the health impacts of toxic pollution and has previously uncovered lead and other toxic health threats to children from wood playground structures, toys, vinyl baby bibs and lunchboxes, imported candies, children’s jewelry, children’s medicines, and many other products. CEH also works with major industries and leaders in green business to promote healthier alternatives to toxic products and practices. In 2010, the San Francisco Business Times bestowed its annual “Green Champion” award to CEH for its work to improve health and the environment in the Bay Area and beyond.

A list of retailers and brands notified recently for their lead-tainted handbags or accessories follows.

Retailers with repeat sales of lead-containing accessories

1.      Charlotte Russe
2.      DSW
3.      Forever21
4.      Macy’s
5.      Nordstroms
6.      Sears
7.      Target
8.      The Buckle
9.      TJ Maxx
10.   Wet Seal

Brands with repeat sales of lead-containing accessories

1.      Big Buddha
2.      Charlotte Russe
3.      Forever21
4.      Lulu (Fantasia Accessories Inc)
5.      Ralph Lauren
6.      Steve Madden
7.      Wet Seal


Are you carrying a purse or accessory with a high lead count?  Will you think about how much lead is in your handbag when making your next purse purchase?  Share your thoughts with us.

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