Hidden Lead, Hidden Dangers

Where are the regulations? We wear and touch them daily: shoes, purses and wallets. But, do we know what is lurking in the accessories we love?

 Nine West said that it had “pulled the product in question from all stores.”

According to an article published last year by NBC, Oakland’s Center for Environmental Health tested hundreds of handbags and wallets from popular Bay Area stores and found lead in purses and wallets sold at one out of four retail stores it visited, ranging from discount retailers to high end department stores.

The consumer group said it tested 300 purses and wallets. CEH found lead in 43 of the products.

While there is no federal standard for how much lead is allowed in these items, hundreds of retailers pledged to limit lead to 300ppm in their products in a 2010 legal agreement with CEH. However, the report found many of them were violating their own standards.

“Lead is notorious because it impacts a child’s brain and they are not able to learn as well as they would have if they hadn’t been exposed to lead,” said Caroline Cox, research director for the Center for Environmental Health.

“All day long you’re carrying your purse, opening it, closing it. Every time you touch it, a small amount of lead gets on your fingers. Imagine yourself eating a potato chip or putting on lip balm, that lead is going into you,” said Cox.

Meanwhile, warning tags are showing up on handbags and sandals in stores in the Bay Area in accordance with Prop 65, the California law that requires businesses to notify customers about “significant chemicals in the products they purchase.”

The labels read, “This product may contain lead, a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

So why are these products still being sold? In part because there are no federal guidelines for how much lead is allowed in something like a purse or a shoe.

“Even though the CPSC regulations don’t currently extend to handbags, they probably should,” said toxicologist Dr. Siva Ayyar.

Unfortunately there is no scientific agreement on exactly how much is too much when it comes to lead exposure, and that ingesting lead or breathing in lead dust is thought to be more dangerous than just touching it, but, If you can avoid it you should. There’s no safe exposure level.

Click here to see whether you own a purse with traces of known lead.

The Center for Environmental Health said brightly colored purses made of plastic or vinyl were the most likely to contain lead. It suggested purchasing leather or fabric goods to have a better chance that all you’re carrying is your purse.

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