Ross, TJX, Burlington Respond to Report Claiming They Sold Accessories With High Levels of Lead

In response to a recent report by a nonprofit organization that alleged that retailers like Ross and TJ Maxx had sold accessories with elevated levels of lead, a few of the companies have struck back.

The Center for Environmental Health published its findings following a 13-year examination of what it described as “systematic toxic problems” at Ross and Burlington stores, two retail chains that cater to price-conscious shoppers. The organization claimed to have found high levels of toxic lead in leather and faux leather fashion accessories including handbags, wallets, shoes and belts.

Individual brands and specific styles were not cited, nor were they provided by a CEH spokesperson, who also declined to specify what percentage of the accessories that were being sold by each retailer contained elevated levels of lead.

Faux fur items, especially the interior linings of handbags and wallets and belts that were sold as a set with other garments, versus as stand-alone accessories, were more prone to high levels of lead, according to the report. The CEH also alleged that more than half of the lead-containing fashion accessories that were purchased at Ross and Burlington in 2022 had Proposition 65 warnings, including some that were “hidden in small print, on tags inside of handbags and on the bottom of shoes.”

Passed into law in California in 1986, Proposition 65 is officially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Environment Act. Proposition 65 warnings are used to signal to Californians about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harms.

The CEH report alleged that in 2022, more than 25 percent of the fashion accessories that had been purchased from off-price specialists Ross and Burlington by the researchers and then tested contained elevated lead levels above 0.03 percent and up to 1.7 percent.

Lead toxicity can affect every organ system. There is sufficient evidence for the adverse health effects in children and adults at blood lead levels <5 micrograms per deciliter, according to the National Toxicology Program [NTP 2012], and the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, there is no identified threshold or safe level of lead in blood.

In the CEH release revealing its findings, Dr. Vin Gupta said “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.”

A Burlington store front

A Burlington store.


Founded more than 27 years ago, the CEH has taken the lead on a nationwide effort to try to protect people from toxic chemicals by working with communities, consumers, workers, government officials, and the private sector to demand and support business practices that are safer for public health and the environment.

The CEH also stated that over the last decade it has notified Burlington, Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, Ross and TJ Maxx nearly 500 times that they were allegedly selling specific fashion accessories containing elevated levels of lead. The group claimed that Ross and Burlington accounted for more than 300 of those notices.

A Ross executive was not available for an interview Monday, according to a corporate spokesperson.

The company addressed the issue with a statement that highlighted how “the health and safety of our customers and associates is of the utmost importance.” The statement also noted that the retail chain does not manufacture fashion accessories, “but we maintain 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. 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.”

The New Jersey-based Burlington had 939 stores as of the halfway point last year and its FY2022 net sales were $8.7 billion. Asked for comment about the CEH’s claims, a Burlington spokesperson issued a statement that cited its commitment to the health and safety of its customers and associates.

The statement continued, “We require our 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 did not specify if an investigation was underway due to the CEH report.

A media request to Nordstrom Rack had not been returned as of Monday afternoon.

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