Eco-Tip of the Week: How to Buy Safer Handbags

Lead in handbags.  Cadmium in jewelry.

These days, news about toxic heavy metal discoveries in fashion accessories seems to be popping up left and right.   Just this week CEH discovered three items at Wal-Mart with very high levels of lead, including a Miley Cyrus-brand wallet containing more than 30 times more lead than the limit other companies have agreed to.

With each discovery of lead-tainted items at familiar stores, it gets harder to trust any retailer to sell products that are safe from lead and other toxic health hazards.

With our recent success in bringing more than forty leading companies to an agreement to end lead risks from their handbags and accessories, shoppers can know that these companies are taking strong steps to protect consumer health.

In addition, CEH’s research director Caroline Cox has some suggestions for accessory shopping and how to handle the purses and other accessories you have in your closets (and on your shoulders) now :

1. Purchase Natural Materials: Lead often rears its ugly head in polyvinyl chloride (aka vinyl, PVC) and polyurethane, materials used to make many faux-leather handbags.  If you’re purchasing a wallet or handbag, buy one that is made of natural materials—like canvas, cotton, or genuine leather—rather than faux leather.  Though we have found some lead problems with genuine leather, real leather is generally safer than the fake stuff.

2. Wash Your Hands and Keep Items Away From Kids: If you already own a faux leather handbag, we recommend that you make sure that children don’t play with it.  We also recommend that you wash your hands after touching it.

3. Get Your Handbag Tested: We have a fancy gizmo here in the office that allows us to quickly screen items for lead (and other metals).  We’re glad to test items you already own for lead (at no charge).  Send them to us here at the Center for Environmental Health. Please be sure to include the return postage so that we can send your items back to you.

And if you live in the Bay Area, you can call and schedule a drop-in testing appointment.