A Warning for Christmas Shoppers: Avoid Lead-Tainted Purses, Belts and Shoes from Forever 21, Wet Seal and Charlotte Russe

Tip from Chinese Whistleblower Leads to Latest Charlotte Russe Lead Violation

Oakland, CA-The Center for Environmental Health today warned shoppers to avoid potentially lead-tainted purses, belts and shoes from the major mall chain stores Forever 21, Wet Seal and Charlotte Russe. Over the past year, more than half of the accessories from Wet Seal tested for lead by an independent lab contained more lead than allowed under a legal agreement the companies signed in 2010. About 25% of items from the other two stores also failed to meet this lead safety standard.

CEH released a video today, Dumb Ways to Shop, to warn consumers about the lead problem at the stores. “These retailers target young women, who are especially at risk from lead threats,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “Families should not support giant retailers that flout the law and ignore their responsibility to provide safer products. This holiday season, we urge shoppers to avoid purses and other accessories at these stores.”

In a remarkable development, last month CEH’s attorneys received a letter from a Chinese whistleblower warning them that a boot sold at Charlotte Russe for the past two years is tainted with high levels of lead. The letter included a photo of the boot and test results showing lead levels in violation of the safety standard, and warned that consumers and the environment could be at risk. Independent lab results CEH received this week confirm the boot contains nearly 7,000 parts per million (ppm) of lead, more than 20 times above the safety standard.

The lead problems at these stores have been ongoing for several years. Forever 21, Wet Seal and Charlotte Russe were notified about the lead problem in these products more than 4 years ago, and more than 3 years ago they each signed legal agreements to get the lead out. Dozens of other retailers who signed similar agreements have had no or far fewer recent lead safety problems.

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, when some women are not even aware that they are pregnant, had the most pronounced effects on a child’s mental development.

CEH has a seventeen-year track record of protecting communities from the health impacts of toxic pollution. 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.

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