Issue #41: Lead Lurking in Your Handbag

Lead in Handbags

Lead in HandbagsWho Knew We Needed to Choose Our Handbags Carefully?

by Alicia Voorhies, RN

Those fashion-forward handbags in trendy shades of lime, tangerine, and candy apple red just might be laced with lead.

Can you imagine accidentally exposing your teething baby to lead as they chew on your purse strap?  Lead is especially dangerous, with exposure increasing the risk infertility, impaired mental development, heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.

Lead Lurking Where It Shouldn't Be

In 2009, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) uncovered a toxic trend among many major handbag brands and retailers – high levels of lead in brightly colored fashion accessories.  The good news is that following their investigation, CEH reached a landmark agreement with more than 200 fashion brands and retailers, setting a limit of no more than trace amounts (300 parts per million) of lead in most handbag materials.

But there's not a happy ending just yet…

Last February CEH launched a project where they tested 289 purses and wallets as a follow up to the agreement. Of these, they found 43 items that contained levels of lead ranging from 3 times to nearly 200 times higher than the agreed upon legal limit. Offending brands and retailers included Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Tory Burch, Forever 21, Ralph Lauren, Nine West, BCBG Maxazria, Charlotte Russe, Guess, TJ Maxx, Ross, and

How to Avoid Lead in Handbags

It's impossible to know if a purse contains lead without testing it, but there are simple steps you can take to minimize your risk of exposure.

  • Avoid purses and wallets made of synthetic materials like faux leather, and opt instead for natural materials like canvas or cotton.  Faux leather is often made from vinyl (PVC), which is well known for lead contamination.
  • Especially avoid brightly colored yellow, orange, red, and green faux leather products.
  • If you already own a purse that you suspect might have lead in it, keep it away from small children and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching it.

Still unsettled about that expensive handbag you love, but not ready to recycle it just yet?  CEH will test your handbags for lead at no charge. All you have to do is mail it to their office and include return postage so they can send it back to you.

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