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Toxic Fashion: New Report Shows Shockingly High Levels of Lead in Fashion Accessories Sold at Off-Price Retailers

Contact: Emily DiFrisco,

10 years of testing handbags, wallets, shoes, and belts reveals persistent problem at stores Ross and Burlington 

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Today the nonprofit watchdog the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) published a groundbreaking report spanning 13 years detailing a systemic toxics problem at Ross and Burlington. Starting in 2009, CEH repeatedly found high levels of toxic lead in leather and faux leather fashion accessories including handbags, wallets, shoes, and belts sold at these off-price retailers. In 2022 alone, more than 25 percent of the fashion accessories purchased from Ross and Burlington and tested by CEH contained elevated lead levels above 0.03% and up to 1.7%.

Over the last decade, CEH has notified retailers Burlington, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, Ross, and TJ Maxx nearly 500 times that they were selling specific fashion accessories containing elevated levels of lead. Ross and Burlington accounted for over 300 of those notices.

“No amount of lead is safe,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, a noted pulmonologist. “Lead is a carcinogen and reproductive toxicant that can cause permanent and irreversible health effects and is especially harmful to children. Lead found in fashion accessories can come off onto our hands and then travel into our body when we touch our mouths.”

Tell Ross and Burlington: Stop Exposing Your Customers and Workers to Toxic Lead

Ross and Burlington stores cater to lower-income consumers. Many of their California storefronts are located in communities already facing environmental, health, and other socioeconomic pressures.

“Off-price retailers like Ross and Burlington are significant players in the fast fashion market,” said Kizzy Charles-Guzman, CEO of CEH. “The continued practice of selling fashion accessories containing toxic chemicals to lower-income shoppers is unconscionable. Affordability should not come at the cost of our health.” 

“Ross and Burlington are examples of a toxic fashion issue at off-price retailers. All off-price retailers must stop exposing workers and consumers to lead in their products,” said Caitlin Moher and Martin Bañuelos, the report’s co-authors. “There is no benefit to lead being in handbags, wallets, shoes, or belts.”

“Ross and Burlington are multi-billion dollar companies in the top 15 fashion retailers in the United States,” said Rob Rosenheck, founder and CEO of the Galisteo Group and chair of CEH’s board. “Today we challenge Ross and Burlington to examine their supply chains to ensure that lead-containing products are not reaching their store shelves at such an alarming and continuous rate.”

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is a 27-year-old organization leading the nationwide effort to protect people from toxic chemicals by working with communities, consumers, workers, government, and the private sector to demand and support business practices that are safer for public health and the environment.