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High levels of lead found in accessories sold at off-price retailers

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Toxic levels of lead found in leather and faux leather accessories at Ross and Burlington Credits: Center for Environmental Health

A new report has found high levels of lead in leather and faux leather fashion accessories, including handbags, wallets, shoes, and belts sold at off-price retailers Ross and Burlington.

The report, published by nonprofit watchdog the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), traces 13 years of systemic toxic levels found in products sold at Ross and Burlington which continues to this day.

Since 2009, CEH states that it has repeatedly found high levels of toxic lead in leather and faux leather fashion accessories sold at these off-price retailers. In 2022, more than 25 percent of the fashion accessories purchased from Ross and Burlington, which were tested by CEH, were found to contain elevated lead levels above 0.03 percent and as high as 1.7 percent.

CEH has notified retailers, including Burlington, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, Ross, and TJ Maxx, close to 500 times over the past decade that certain fashion products sold in their stores contained elevated levels of lead. Ross and Burlington accounted for over 300 of those notices.

"No amount of lead is safe," said Dr. Vin Gupta, a notable pulmonologist, in a statement. "Lead is a carcinogen and reproductive toxicant that can cause permanent and irreversible health effects and is especially harmful to children. Lead found in fashion accessories can come off onto our hands and then travel into our body when we touch our mouths."

Like many off-price and discount retailers, Ross and Burlington stores cater to lower-income consumers. Many of their storefronts in California are located in communities already facing environmental, health, and other socioeconomic pressures.

"Off-price retailers like Ross and Burlington are significant players in the fast fashion market," added Kizzy Charles-Guzman, CEO of CEH. "The continued practice of selling fashion accessories containing toxic chemicals to lower-income shoppers is unconscionable. Affordability should not come at the cost of our health."

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is a 27-year-old organization spearheading a nationwide effort to protect people from toxic chemicals. CEH works with communities, consumers, workers, government, and the private sector to demand and support business practices that are safer for public health and the environment.

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