Lead Found In Reusable Bags

16 Nov

[Reprinted from Counselor® PromoGram® Volume 765 / November 16, 2010]

An investigative series published in the Tampa Tribune claims its independent testing found lead in several reusable grocery bags sold by five different retailers in Florida. The report has led U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to call for a federal investigation to determine the scope of the public health risk. “Federal agencies need to put a ban in place for reusable bags that have lead in them,” Schumer said. “Any situation where lead bags are coming into contact with the food being purchased by Americans needs to be immediately investigated and resolved.”

The bags, sold at Winn-Dixie, Publix, Sweetbay, Wal-Mart and Target, contained levels of lead that fall within current government allowances, but are higher than the soon-to-be-enacted federal standard of 100 parts-per-million in paint and children’s products. Although painted illustrations on the bags contain lead in a form that is not easily leached, lab experts say over time toxins can be released as threads wear down and paint flakes off. Also, if the bags were to be thrown away, the lead levels are elevated enough to cause potential hazards in places like landfills, according to guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Within the ad specialty industry, suppliers have been quick to react to the report with a mix of concern and skepticism. “This issue absolutely illustrates the risk we have in the industry with non-compliance and how critical it is that every shipment be tested,” said Jeff Lederer, executive vice president of Counselor Top 40 supplier Prime Line (asi/79530). Joe Hoffman, vice president of business development at supplier Jetline (asi/63344), believes bags are generally very safe. “I would be surprised if these were non-laminated, non-woven polypropylene totes,” he said. “It’s possible that the bags in question used lead-based inks under a laminated layer. They mention elaborate photography as decoration, which is really not an option on the most common grocery totes.”

Christopher Duffy, senior vice president of marketing at Counselor Top 40 supplier Bag Makers (asi/37940), contends that the report wrongly lumps all reusable bags together. “The bags in question have been of a very specific type of material and construction, made using a gloss laminate shell and a different series of inks,” he said. “As such, there is a danger here that all reusable grocery totes will be grouped into the same category, and this would be a mistake to do.”

This is the second time in recent months that the safety of reusable grocery bags has been questioned. Following testing, grocery chain Wegmans announced in September it would stop selling two bag designs because of elevated lead levels. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to respond to Schumer’s call for an investigation, and the government agency has not announced plans to investigate lead levels in reusable grocery bags.

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