H&M and New York & Co. agreed to abide by new restrictions on lead in purses last week when the retailers settled a lawsuit brought by a California consumer watchdog group.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health sued the companies, along with dozens of other co-defendants, last June. The advocacy group alleged the retailers violated California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 by selling handbags, wallets and other accessories containing unsafe levels of the lead.

Hennes & Mauritz AB, New York & Co. parent Lerner NY and two vendors settled with the nonprofit organization in consent judgments approved Jan. 21 in Alameda County Superior Court.

The Center for Environmental Health said that, according to the independent testing that prompted its lawsuit, the four companies offered accessories that contained lead levels between 13 times and more than 115 times a 300 parts per million standard reached in the settlement. In its complaint, the nonprofit said consumers, including pregnant women and children, risked lead exposure through average use of the products. It called the settlements a landmark because, in the absence of legislation on the matter, they create the first legally binding rules on lead levels in purses in the country.

“We entered into this agreement to be responsible,” H&M spokeswoman Nicole Christie said Tuesday. Christie said the retailer has its own strict internal standards, but that it signed on to the settlement to “contribute toward the work CEH is doing…obviously they’re continuing to take these products off the market, which is a good thing.”

Although the settlement only pertains to bags sold in California, Christie said H&M would take comprehensive action throughout its operations.

A representative for New York & Co. had no comment.

Under the terms of their settlement, New York & Co. and the vendors agreed that by Sept. 1, purses they sell in California will contain no more than 90 parts per million lead in paint or on surface coatings, no more than 200 parts per million in PVC and no more than 600 parts per million in leather. The deal requires the companies to reduce the leather threshold to 300 parts per million by Sept. 1, 2011. H&M’s settlement calls for it to adhere to the 90 parts per million standard on paint and surfaces by March 1 and 300 parts per million on all materials by Dec. 1.

The agreements also require each of the defendants to make $35,000 in settlement payments.

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