Lead in Purses, Belts, and Shoes

Problem: High levels of lead in purses, handbags, wallets and other accessories pose a health threat to women, especially women of child-bearing age. Two recent studies, both published in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’s peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, demonstrated the impacts that lead exposure during pregnancy can have on a women’s unborn child.

One study, investigating children’s IQ scores in relation to their mother’s blood lead level, concluded that lead exposure during pregnancy could have “lasting and possibly permanent effects” on a child’s IQ. The second 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.

CEH Action: In 2009, CEH initiated legal action against major retailers for selling purses and other accessories with high levels of lead. In our initial shopping, we found excessive lead levels in purses from 16 of 21 stores visited. Over the following months we tested hundreds of purses and accessories and took action against more than one hundred retailers and producers of lead-tainted products.

See the April 2009 CEH Report, Pretty but Poisonous: Lead in Handbags and Wallets.

Solution: In June 2010, CEH announced that more than forty major retailers had agreed to eliminate lead risks to women from purses and other accessories. By fall 2010, more than 75 additional retailers, producers and suppliers joined the initial group in agreeing to strict limits on lead in their products. The agreements established a fund for monitoring the companies’ compliance to the lead limits, and CEH is continuing to investigate other companies that produce purses and other accessories.

What You Can Do: If you’re purchasing a wallet, handbag or other accessories, look for items made of natural materials rather than faux leather. If you already own faux leather products, make sure that children don’t play with them, and be sure to wash your hands after handling them. If you are concerned about a particular purse or other accessory, CEH offers free lead testing.


Major Retailers Agree to Limit Lead in Handbags, Associated Press, June 2, 2010

High Levels of Lead in Purses, ABC News with Diane Sawyer, January 22, 2010

Popular Purses May Carry Dangerous Levels of Lead, CBS News, April 8, 2009