Just when you thought you were doing the right thing for the environment! News that reuseable shopping bags may contain lead is now prompting the U.S. FDA to investigate whether use of the bags could pose a health hazard.
Paper, plastic or lead? Are those really our choices?
There are no federal standards for lead quantity in reusable shopping bags. However, considering the fact that the heavy metal could pose health risks if ingested, there are standards that require less than 400 parts per million (ppm) in soil used in play areas, and less than 600 ppm for paint.
Several recent newspaper articles have reported that trace amounts of lead (3 to 5 ppm) were found in reusable shopping bags from Target and Wal-Mart. Is this enough to raise concerns?
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry warns that exposure to lead can negatively impact the central nervous system. Women of childbearing age could experience fertility problems, as well.
Paint used to brand some of the reusable shopping bags may contain lead, unless you choose bags labeled with soy ink. As the bags wear out, lead could contact your groceries directly. In addition, bags that are discarded and end up in landfills may leach into water if the landfills do not have liners.
So what should you do?
1. Choose reusable shopping bags with minimal (or no) designs. Elaborate illustrations and the use of yellow and green paint are the most common culprits when it comes to lead.
2. If you are concerned about lead in your reusable shopping bag, take it back to the retailer. Walmart, Target and Trader Joe’s are offering refunds to customers that do not wish to keep the bags.
3. Make your own canvas shopping bags, or purchase one online from a site other than those of the grocery retailers. We’ve reviewed several sites that offer eco-friendly shopping bags like Tote Buddy, Wind Bags and Green Girl World Eco-Totes.
4. Do your research and be a smart consumer. Target, Walmart and Trader Joe’s have all issued statements regarding the trace amounts of lead found in their reusable shopping bags.
Walmart assures its customers that its reusable bags “far exceed industry standards for lead levels in products, including the widely accepted U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines for children’s toys.”
5. Replace your reusable shopping bags before they wear out. Do not launder them, which can further cause breakdown, but spot clean instead.
For me, the small amounts of lead that may be found in my reusable shopping bags is not enough to stop me from using them. I’m guessing that the FDA will not have any significant concerns about lead in reusable shopping bags, either. But I do expect new federal standards to be established for consumer protection.
What’s your take on the news about potential lead in reusable shopping bags?