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Ross and T.J. Maxx Accused of Selling Accessories With High Levels of Toxic Lead

A new report from the Center for Environmental Health follows years of testing.

For many shoppers, off-price retailers are the go-to destination for scoring name-brand accessories at significantly lower prices. But while you may save cash on that new purse or pair of heels, your purchase could come at a different cost. According to a recent report published by the nonprofit organization Center for Environmental Health (CEH), several fashion accessories sold at Ross, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, and Burlington all contain "shockingly high levels of lead."

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The report, published on March 12, covers 13 years of CEH testing efforts that "repeatedly found high levels of toxic lead in leather and faux leather fashion accessories including handbags, wallets, shoes, and belts sold at these off-price retailers."

According to a press release outlining the findings, CEH has notified Burlington, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, Ross, and T.J. Maxx "nearly 500 times" to inform them about the lead levels in specific fashion accessories. And while companies have been "reformulating their products," lead remains a problem at these off-price retailers.

"No amount of lead is safe," Vin Gupta, MD, MPA, a public health physician, professor, and health policy expert, said in a press release. "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."

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In 2022, CEH shifted its testing strategy to focus on products from Ross and Burlington, as over 300 notices about lead levels were sent to these retailers alone. CEH investigators bought more than 1,950 shoes, handbags, wallets, and belts suspected to contain lead from the off-price retailers' California stores. In total, 377 accessories were purchased from Burlington and 1,577 from Ross.

Following testing, researchers concluded that approximately 27 percent of fashion accessories purchased from Ross and Burlington in 2022 had elevated lead levels exceeding 300 parts per million (ppm). According to CEH, this is three times the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's legal limit for lead in children's products.

Investigators also listed specific brands sold at Burlington and Ross that produce lead-containing products, including popular footwear names like Mudd, Nanette Lepore, and Daisy Fuentes, among others. Popular handbag brands with products containing lead included Badgley Mishka, Bebe, Ellen Tracy, and several others.

Also at these stores, CEH found that over half of lead-containing fashion accessories had Proposition 65 warnings about certain chemical exposure—mandated by California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Environment Act of 1986—but they were sometimes "hidden in small print, on tags inside of handbags, and on the bottom of shoes."

"Off-price retailers like Ross and Burlington are significant players in the fast fashion market," Kizzy Charles-Guzman, CEO of CEH, said in the press release. "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."

RELATED: 8 Warnings to Shoppers From Former T.J. Maxx Employees.

In response to these claims, several off-price retailers have hit back at the CEH claims.

In a statement to Best Life, a TJX spokesperson said, "Product safety is important to us, and conducting our business with integrity means everything to us."

They continued, "Our merchandise vendors represent and warrant that the goods they supply to us comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and standards, including those related to lead content. If we are made aware of an item that may not comply with the law, we take it seriously, and take actions to look into it and take appropriate steps, as needed."

In a statement to Best Life, a corporate spokesperson for Ross also cited health and safety as being "of the utmost importance"—and while the retailer doesn't manufacture the accessories it sells, it has "strict product safety requirements."

"We have policies in place that require our suppliers to meet applicable product safety and labeling standards that are established by government regulators," the spokesperson said. "Those include standards related to lead content. If we learn of allegations that our products are not in compliance, we investigate and take prompt action."

Burlington weighed in with a similar statement, telling Women's Wear Daily (WWD) that it requires merchandise suppliers "to meet applicable regulatory mandates including threshold limits established by federal, state and local jurisdictions for restricted chemicals such as lead. If there is a claim in which merchandise is not in compliance, Burlington takes swift action to investigate and remedy the situation," the spokesperson said.

Best Life reached out to Nordstrom Rack, Burlington, and Ross for additional information and will update the story when we hear back.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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