In another widely publicized case of a green product turning out to have a dark side (similar to hysteria over mercury in CFLs and toxins in electric car batteries), regulators and companies are taking a closer look at reusable shopping bags. With calls for consumers and retailers alike to cut down on the waste associated with single-use plastic bags, many outlets have been offering up cheap reusable bags, often branded with the store logo. However, some of these products have been found to be contaminated with lead.
New York Senator Charles Schumer has called for an investigation into reusable grocery bags to determine if they contain lead. "Federal agencies need to put a ban in place for reusable bags that have lead in them," Schumer said in a statement. This follows an announcement that Florida-based Publix supermarkets found lead in some bags sold in the Tampa area, and has asked its New Jersey-based supplier, Team Beans LLC, to consider reducing the lead in the products.
According to The Ledger, independent lab tests on Publix's University of South Florida-branded reusable bags had found lead content of 194 parts per million (ppm). The bags are not currently being recalled, since that level of lead is below the current 300 ppm government standard (although that standard drops to 100 ppm of lead "in children's products" by August 2011, "if technologically feasible" according to the Consumer Product Safety Act of 2008).
The Daily Green spoke to Maria Brous, director of media and community relations, via phone. She confirmed that the store's "cloth-based reusable bags are not in question." She explained, "The one that came back from the lab was polypropylene." When we asked Brous if consumers should consider avoiding reusable polypropylene [number 5 plastic] bags now, she answered, "I think that's too early to say. We look at what the standard is, at 300 ppm, and this bag tested at 194. That's something more for the suppliers to look to." Brous confirmed that while the supplier is based in New Jersey, the bags may ultimately be made in China.
Brous added that those consumers concerned about bags bought at Publix can return them to a store for an exchange.
In New York state, the Wegman's grocery store recently announced that it was pulling some types of reusable bags after tests found lead levels as high as 799 ppm, which is above even the previous standard of 600 ppm.
So what are consumers to do now? So far, most of the bags tested have come in below the current lead standard, so risk of harmful exposure seems pretty low. Sill, while tests are being done and regulators are taking a look at the industry, it might be prudent to choose reusable cloth bags over plastic ones. Or, if you can find bags that are made in America that may reduce the chance of lead contamination.
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