Lead Found in Purses Risk for Pregnant Women

by Jennifer Shakeel

Today’s purses are bright and cheerful.  These large hold all, carry all bags are inexpensive and you can buy them anywhere. Stores like Target, and Kohl’s, Wal Mart and Macy’s have rainbows of pouches and purses. Their vinyl, PVC and faux leather surfaces wipe clean with soap and water, they resist spills, and you can have one to match every outfit, and every pair of shoes. These purses have great appeal to young and old. Unfortunately, they are slow killers.

Purses have joined the ranks of toxic consumer products, along with painted toys from China and play jewelry for children.  A recent report from the not for profit Center for Environmental Health states that these bags, when tested, have levels of lead up to ninety times higher than the federal limit for lead in paint. This is a frightening finding for women, and their children. The lead is used to preserve colors and softness in purses and wallets that are sold in many national chain stores. Out of twenty one outlets in California, sixteen had contamination that exceeded the level required for labeling under Proposition 65.  The colors that showed the highest levels of lead are yellow, and yellow tinted colors, such as green and orange. ABC News reports that H&M and New York stores are working to address this problem and pull contaminated purses from their shelves in California.

Although we do not think of purses and billfolds as being something that we put in the mouth, the obvious route of ingestion, lead contamination is being detected in high rates on the clothes these purses rub against, and in things that are carried in the bag, like lunches, and children’s toys.  Lead rubs off of these purses onto the mother’s hands, onto their kids’ hands and the hands go straight to the mouth. Women have dangerous levels of lead showing up in their system, in their bones and in blood tests as well. This is a health hazard for women of all ages and for their families.

Our first concern needs to be for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding. During pregnancy lead has been shown to transfer from the mother to the fetus. When a woman is breastfeeding, due to an increased need for calcium, the woman’s bones can break down. At that point, lead that has been stored in the mother’s bones during her lifetime leaches out to the bloodstream with the calcium. This increases the exposure of the infant brain to lead. The young immune system has no barrier to protect the brain from the lead that it is exposed to during gestation. This exposure can take place during the entire pregnancy, as well as during lactation.  Lead exposure in infants and children has been shown by studies all over the world to cause learning disabilities, violent behavior, and mental retardation. Children have enough difficulties without adding environmental poison.

Adult exposure to lead has been shown to contribute to cognitive disorders, and is destructive to the kidneys and causes increased risk of heart disease. Some scientists believe lead contamination could be linked to other diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS.  Is being fashionable worth these potential health risks? We need to think about how we can avoid lead exposure in our daily lives.

The final word is to avoid vinyl bags. Carry leather or cloth bags. There are many colorful canvas bags on the market in all sizes. If you do carry vinyl bags and wallets, be sure to wash your hands after handling them. Do not give them to your child to hold or play with. Do not carry your lunch in vinyl purses. Hopefully other states will follow the lead of California at removing the bags from the market.

News of this health risk seems to have been reported as early as April 2009. Dianne Sawyer featured a news piece about it on January 22, 2010 on an ABC news program. It is time for all consumers to be made aware of these risks and the measures that they need to take to avoid them. When the demand for these products diminishes, then the supply will be reduced as well. Meanwhile, take the measures that you can to protect yourself.

Biography
Jennifer Shakeel is a writer and former nurse with over 12 years medical experience.  As a mother of two incredible children with one on the way, I am here to share with you what I have learned about parenting and the joys and changes that take place during pregnancy. Together we can laugh and cry and rejoice in the fact that we are moms!

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