Get the Lead Out of Your Purse. ,Fashion & Beauty

    Get the Lead Out of Your Purse.
    Macy's, Target, KMart and dozens of other retailers have agreed to stop selling lead-tainted accessories.
When you're combing the purse racks of your favorite department store, you might be thinking something along the lines of "but will this fit my water bottle?" or "does this crazy print go with everything?" (It does. You can work it.)

What you're not thinking: "How much lead does this bag contain?" So the answer to that question might shock you.

The Oakland, CA-based nonprofit Center for Environmental Health tested women's faux leather handbags, wallets, and other accessories last year, and found dozens containing high levels of lead that exceed the federal safety standard for lead in paint. (There is no federal safety standard for lead in other consumer goods sold to adults, though children's products must now contain no more than 300 parts per million lead.) This is bad, because lead exposure is associated with a host of serious medical problems for women and children alike. Says CEH:

    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.

Researchers don't know for sure that the lead in your handbag could leach out and expose you to toxic levels. But like the children's jewelry and toys that were recalled in 2007 (see my Good Housekeeping feature for the full scoop) these handbags count as a pretty unnecessary source of exposure, and one that it makes sense to minimize when we're exposed to so many unavoidable toxins in our air, water and food every day. And activists and public health officials alike worry about what happens when a toddler messes around with mom's purse or jewelry, given the tendency of young children to put things in their mouth.

Which is why it's great news that CEH announced today that it has succeeded in getting over 40 major retailers to agree to phase out lead-containing accessories. Macy’s, Sears/Kmart, Target, Kohl’s, JC Penney, Guess, Victoria’s Secret, Saks and other retailers have until December 1 to make sure their accessories meet new, stricter standards for lead content, after which they'll face mandatory fines of up to $12,500.

Of course, there are plenty of retailers beyond this group who can still carry lead-containing goods, without having to disclose that information to consumers — including one you just might have heard of: "Interestingly, Walmart has refused to settle, instead opting to turn over their suppliers each time we find a violation (as opposed to other retailers, who have agreed to take proactive steps to end lead hazards)," says Charles Margulis, a CEH spokesperson. "Just last week, we found three more handbags and wallets, including one Miley Cyrus-brand product [pictured above] at Walmart with lead levels well in excess of those in the settlement." So if you're pregnant or have small kids around, or are otherwise concerned about your lead exposure, you might want to be a lead-free label snob for now.