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Lead Discovered In Reusable Shopping Bags

November 16, 2010

A New York Senator is calling for a probe into environmentally friendly reusable grocery bags following reports that they may contain dangerous levels of lead.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York announced on Monday that he has or will contact the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after an investigation by the Tampa Tribune, in which lead was discovered in bags purchased at Winn-Dixie, Publix, Sweetbay, Walmart and Target.

“Federal agencies need to put a ban in place for reusable bags that have lead in them,” Schumer said in a statement, according to Stephanie Armour of USA Today. Armour also notes that the Democratic Senator sent a letter to the FDA, asking them to open an investigation into the issue and saying that “any situation where lead bags are coming into contact with the food being purchased by Americans needs to be immediately investigated and resolved.”

According to a CBS News reports, Schumer claims that many of the reusable grocery bags found in the U.S. are actually made in China, the source of several other products that have faced recalls or probes over their lead content in recent months. The reusable bags are made available by retailers in an attempt to cut down on the use of plastic bags, but lead-tainted ones could contaminate the food contained within them or seep into landfills, causing environmental harm.

Lead is a toxic substance that has been linked to learning disabilities in children and fertility problems in adults, according to the Associated Press (AP).

As part of the original investigation, Richard Mullins of the Tampa Tribune wrote that the newspaper purchased two-dozen reusable bags from the largest grocers in the area. They then put the bags through two sets of tests at Tampa-based Thornton Laboratories–a group “which regularly tests food and chemicals for industrial clients, and has tested children’s jewelry for the Tribune,” according to Mullins.

While Mullins noted that the packaging industry is attempting to limit lead levels of 100 parts per million, Florida currently has no official policy regulating such content. Bags from Winn-Dixie showed lead levels of 121 and 117 in each of the two tests respectively, while Publix bags yielded results of 87 and 194 in separate tests.

“The bags tested by the Tribune with the highest lead levels tended to have the most elaborate designs or illustrations that covered the entire surface,” said Mullins. “By contrast, a nylon bag sold by Target with almost no illustrations had almost undetectable levels of lead. Also, the simplest bags from Sweetbay, Walmart and Publix contained little lead.”

In an email sent to the AP late last week, Winn-Dixie spokesperson Robin Miller said that she was confident that the bags were safe and that the supermarket chain would “continue to work closely with our suppliers to make certain that we are in compliance with industry standards.” Miller also said any consumer who was concerned over the bags’ lead content could return them for a refund.

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