Walmart may be the world’s third largest purchaser of organic cotton, but the rollback-happy mega-retailer’s eco-cred could still use some burnishing. A year after the Center for Environmental Health sent Johnny Law a-knockin’ on the doors of 100 leading retailers—including Target, Kmart, Macy’s, Sears, and Kohl’s—for hawking lead-tainted handbags, purses, and wallets, almost half have settled with the California-based watchdog organization. One of the remaining holdouts? Walmart. As late as last week, Big Blue was still selling lead-contaminated accessories, including a Miley Cyrus-brand wallet with 30 times more lead than the limit agreed upon in the settlement, according to CEH.
Still, no amount of lead is safe for children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Childhood lead poisoning, which has no obvious physical symptoms, remains a major environmental-health problem in the United States, resulting in nervous system and kidney damage, learning disabilities, speech and behavior problems, poor muscle coordination, decreased muscle and bone growth, and hearing damage. Pregnant women, women of child-bearing age, and their babies, are particularly vulnerable to the pernicious neurotoxin.
Childhood lead poisoning remains a major environmental-health problem in the United States.
Lead frequently rears its ugly head in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a material used to make many faux-leather handbags and shoes. Because the heavy metal is prone to flaking off, lead could be ingested if a child nibbles a contaminated purse or if a pregnant woman touches her bag and then her food. Although federal law limits lead in children’s products to no more than 300 parts per million, no such standard exists for bags and accessories.
The civil case, which was settled by more than 40 retailers on Tuesday to the tune of $1.7 million, will limit the use of lead in handbags and other accessories. Walmart, however, chose not to settle.
This isn’t Walmart or even the erstwhile Hannah Montana’s first tangle with the fashion industry’s unsavory underbelly. Just last month, the big-box retailer yanked an entire line of Miley Cyrus-brand necklaces and bracelets from its shelves after tests performed for the Associated Press found they contained high levels of the toxic metal cadmium.
Although cadmium poses little threat when worn, the known carcinogen is kissing cousins to lead when it comes to stymying brain development in babies and children. But young’uns are apt to chew or suck on jewelry, which presents a problem.
In May, Walmart recalled Miley Cyrus-brand jewelry after they tested positive for high levels of cadmium.
Walmart sat on the test results and continued to sell the tainted jewelry until the AP made its report public, according to the news agency. The reason: It would be too difficult to test products already on its shelves, the company told the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in April.