By  on June 4, 2010

The Center for Environmental Health has reached a $1.7 million settlement with more than 40 retailers, including Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Saks Inc., and distributors in a lawsuit that sought to reduce the amount of lead in handbags and other accessories.

According to the terms of the settlement filed with a California state court, payments from each defendant will be used partly to help fund the Oakland-based organization’s work to educate and protect Californians from toxic health hazards. They also will go to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2009, alleged violations of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 through the sale of handbags and small leather accessories containing unsafe levels of lead.

Payments from each defendant average $45,500 to $48,000, with the bulk consisting of legal fees in the $30,000-plus range. The average civil penalty is around $13,000 for each defendant, and the general contribution amount from each firm that settled is $2,000 for California’s fashion accessory testing fund.

The firms that settled agreed to meet certain standards regarding lead paint by Dec. 1. Violations of the standards could result in mandatory fines of as much as $12,500. While the standards are for handbags and accessories, some of the defendants also agreed to abide by the standards for materials used in belts and/or footwear, according to the Center for Environmental Health

In addition to Macy’s and Saks, the retailers settling included Sears Holdings Corp., Kohl’s Corp., Dress Barn Inc., DSW Inc., Express Inc., Forever 21 Inc., The TJX Cos. Inc. and the Victoria’s Secret unit of Limited Brands Inc.

Among the wholesalers-distributors who settled were Camuto Consulting; Fossil Inc.; Guess Inc.; Jones Apparel Group Inc.; Liz Claiborne Inc. and its Juicy Couture and Kate Spade units; Michael Kors; Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. and its Calvin Klein division, and Rosetti Handbags and Accessories Ltd.

The latest settlement follows one in January in which H&M and New York & Company Inc. agreed to abide by new restrictions on lead in purses.

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