Last April, CEH announced finding high levels of lead in dozens of purses and handbags sold at several major retailers, including Target, Macy’s, WalMart and many others. Last week, a landmark legal agreement with four major companies established, for the first time, limits to end lead threats to women from purses, handbags, clutches and wallets. Friday’s agreement with Lerner NY (New York & Company), H&M, Tri-Coastal Designs and Haddad Accessories creates the country’s first legally binding rules to end high levels of lead in purses.
ABC national news reported on this story on Friday, highlighting the widespread use of lead in purses. Watch the video here.
A major concern is that lead can rub off of the bag and end up on people’s hands, or on children’s hands and then into their mouths. Lead has been implicated in a laundry list of health concerns, mostly for children, pregnant women and women of child-bearing age . Lead is listed by the EPA and other federal and state agencies as a cancer-causing chemical, and 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.
CEH continues to pursue a legal ban on lead in purses sold by more than 100 major retailers and suppliers, with an ultimate goal of tough new lead standards for bags sold in stores across the country.
For more details, please click here to read CEH’s press release.
Since ABC’s coverage of this story, we’ve been getting a lot of questions from concerned consumers. Here’s a list of the most frequent questions, along with their answers:
Q: I understand that New York & Company and H&M have agreed to eliminate lead risks in purses sold in California, but what about purses sold by these companies in other states?
A: Our legal agreements require the companies to reformulate their products nationally. Typically, companies do not produce one product line for California, and another for the rest of the country, so we believe that all purse companies will ultimately change their practices nationally. Already H&M, which sells widely throughout the US and overseas has stated they will eliminate the lead threat globally. H&M and New York & Company should be praised for being the first companies agreeing to legally binding rules on lead in purses.
Q: What about the purses we have already purchased? Can consumers get their money back?
A: The legal settlement calls on the companies to discontinue sales of purses identified with high levels of lead, but unfortunately the law does not require that refunds are offered.
Q: What brands of purses were found with high levels of lead?
A: We found many purses from a wide variety of brands with high levels of lead, but knowing the brand alone is not enough to determine if a particular purse has excessive lead. The list of purse retailers and suppliers is at http://www.ceh.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=426&Itemid=166 . A partial list of brands found with high levels of lead is at http://www.ceh.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=424&Itemid=166.
Q: Where were the purses made?
A: Most of the purses we found with high levels of lead were imported, and (like most consumer products) the majority were made in China.
Q: How do I know if my purse contains a high level of lead?
A: Unfortunately, there is no easy way for consumers to test for lead in purses. Our testing has found high levels of lead in bags made of many materials, including vinyl and other faux leather plastics, leather, and in some metal components of purses. Concerned consumers can mail a purse to the Center for Environmental Health (with return postage provided) and we will test the purse for lead.
Q: What do I do if I’m concerned about lead in my purse?
A: We recommend that you do not let children play with your purse, and we suggest that pregnant women and women of child-bearing age use only purses made from safer materials (eg, cloth/fabrics, nylon, untreated/non-dyed leather). We also suggest not carrying food in your purse, and washing your hands often.
Q: Can lead in purses give me lead poisoning? What if I’m pregnant?
A: Like many consumer products with high levels of lead, it is unlikely that exposure from a purse alone would result in acute lead poisoning. However, lead exposures accumulate, so every exposure that can easily be eliminated should be eliminated. Our suggestions above for handling purses and keeping them away from children should significantly reduce the exposure hazard.
Q: How can I find out more about the legal settlement?
A: The legal settlements are available online at http://proposition65.doj.ca.gov/PDF/2009/2009-00410S1187.pdf (NY&Company) and http://proposition65.doj.ca.gov/PDF/2009/2009-00410S1184.pdf (H&M)