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Major retailers to end sales of lead-tainted accessories
07
Jun '10
The Center for Environmental Health announced a nearly $1.7 million legal agreement with more than 40 major retailers and vendors, including Macy's, Sears/Kmart, Target, Kohl's, JC Penney, Guess, Victoria's Secret, Saks and others, of handbags, purses, wallets and other accessories sold in stores nationwide. The agreement follows CEH findings released last year that hundreds of purses and other accessories contain high levels of lead that can pose a health threat, especially to pregnant women and women of child-bearing age. CEH and the companies intend by this agreement to “set new industry-wide standards” limiting lead in handbags and other fashion accessories.

“Today's settlement means millions of women no longer need to fear that their purse may pose a threat to their health or the health of their children,” said Michael Green, CEH Executive Director. “We expect that every company that makes, imports, distributes or sells purses and other accessories will join these leading companies in meeting these health standards for their consumers.” The settlement allows other accessory companies to opt-in to the Judgment by agreeing to reformulate their products and make a monetary payment.

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.

Federal law requires that materials in products for children contain no more than 300 parts per million (ppm) of lead. But there is no federal standard for lead in purses. Under this agreement, the following handbag standards will be implemented by the settling companies for covered products by December 1, 2010:

• No more than 90 parts per million (ppm) of lead in paint or other surface coatings;
• No more than 600 ppm of lead in leather (going down to 300 ppm by December 1, 2011);
• No more than 300 ppm of lead in vinyl (going down to 200 ppm by December 1, 2011);
• No more than 300 ppm of lead in any other materials (except crystals).

Violations of these standards could result in mandatory fines of up to $12,500. In addition to handbags and accessories, many of the companies in settlement agreed to apply these standards for materials used in belts and/or footwear.

The settling companies have also agreed to payments totalingnearly $1.7 million, which includes payments to the State of California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, payments to help fund CEH's ongoing work to educate and protect Californians from toxic health hazards, payments to help defer CEH's legal expenses, and money from each company towards a testing fund to be used by CEH to monitor for compliance with the terms of the agreement.

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