Press Releases

Progress Made, But Some Handbags Still Pose Lead Threats

Oakland, CA-Testing this spring of nearly 300 handbags, purses, wallets and other accessories purchased from Bay Area outlets of leading national retailers found dozens of products still contain high levels of lead. As seen tonight on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced that independent lab tests it commissioned by the  found high levels of lead in purses or wallets from Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom Rack, Forever 21, and many other retailers. Lead levels in the products range from nearly three times to more than 195 times higher than the level agreed to in a 2010 settlement between CEH and dozens of retailers, producers and distributors of the products.

“While we are seeing fewer problems at some retailers, our recent testing shows there are still far too many lead-tainted handbags on store shelves,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director at CEH. “We expect companies to clean up the problems and do more to insure that women are not exposed to a toxic metal from carrying a purse.”

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. The agreement called for no more than 300 ppm of lead in most materials used in handbags. CEH has since reached similar legal agreements with nearly 200 handbag producers, distributors and retailers.

Since February, CEH has purchased and tested nearly 300 handbags, purses, wallets, and clutches from Bay Area outlets of major retailers and online retail outlets. Lead-tainted handbags or other accessories were found at 21 retailers. More than 300 parts per million (ppm) of lead were found in materials used in 43 products. Ten of the 43 products were found with materials containing lead levels in excess of 10,000 ppm; lab testing of one Tory Burch brand wallet from Neiman Marcus found 58,700 ppm of lead in, more than 195 times higher than the 300 ppm standard.

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 where purses were purchased showing those found with lead tainted handbags or accessories follows.


Handbag Retailers with leady handbags (brands found with lead)

  1.  5-7-9 (5-7-9)
  2. (Sophisticated Style;  Laurel & Sunset; M&M)
  3. Ashley Stewart (Ashley Stewart)
  4. Basic: (JC Fashions; Basic)
  5. BCBG Maxazria (BCBG Maxazria)
  6. Bloomingdale’s (Ralph Lauren)
  7. Charlotte Russe (Charlotte Russe)
  8. DSW (Big Buddha)
  9. (Big Buddha; Vieta; Tokyobay)
  10. Forever 21 (Forever 21)
  11. Neiman Marcus (House of Harlow 1960; Tory Burch)
  12. Nine West Outlet (Nine West)
  13. Nordstrom (Lodis)
  14. Nordstrom Rack (Tusk)
  15. (XOXO)
  16. Rainbow (Rainbow)
  17. Ross (Perfect Image; Giannini; Under One Sky; LuLu)
  18. Shiekh Shoes (elleven K; Nila Anthony)
  19. (ShoeDazzle)
  20. TJ Maxx (Guess)
  21. Victoria’s Secret (Sondra Roberts)