Study shows reusable bags contain high levels of lead content

Amanda Carey Contributor
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It’s hard to resist those attractively patterned and packaged fabric shopping totes, especially when celebrities are promoting them and government officials are forcing businesses to charge customers for disposable bags. There’s just one problem: “Green” reusable bags often harm more than they help.

According to a study released by TEI Analytical, half of reusable shopping bags made with Non-Woven Poly Propylene (NWPP) contain an unhealthy amount of lead. Many of the bags that are supposed to save the planet contain more than 100 parts per million (PPM) of toxic heavy metals — violating state laws. The study tested bags distributed by national chains such as Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Harris Teeter.

Among the worst was a bag distributed by CVS Pharmacy. It was found to have 500 PPM – five times the allowed limit.

It’s not just evil corporations and mega-chains that are selling reusable shopping bags to make a profit. Government officials are handing them out for free to unsuspecting recipients.

In Washington, D.C. City Council member Mary Cheh handed out bags to voters during her reelection campaign. That bag was over the limit by almost 100 PPM. Cheh was in favor of the D.C. bag tax recently implemented throughout the city that requires businesses selling food to charge $0.05 per disposable bag.

The D.C. Department on the Environment also handed out reusable bags that exceeded the acceptable level of lead content. Its bag was distributed to promote the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009, which funds the river cleanup with the $0.05 bag tax.

Despite the alarming results of TEI’s study, the toxicity of “environmentally friendly” bags has escaped real scrutiny from government officials within the bureaucracy.

One congressman did take notice.

A week after the results of the study were released, Democratic Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania sent a letter to the chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Inez Tenenbaum, asking her to review the matter.

Two months later, Altmire received a reply. The gist was simple: Thanks for the concern, but the matter is out of the CPSC’s jurisdiction.

In other words, the one government agency charged with protecting consumers “against unreasonable risks of injuries associated with consumer products,” turned a blind eye when handed evidence of a product that could harm millions of consumers. While the CPSC is all that powerful, it does, hold a large megaphone on consumer issues.

Altmire’s letter was also sent to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Neither one of those agencies acted.

Meanwhile, as the federal bureaucracy characteristically trudges along behind the rest of the country, some are starting to catch on to the dangers of reusable bags. The Tampa Tribune, for instance, did its own independent study of reusable bags in their community. Their results were the same as TEI’s – unhealthy levels of toxicity. Not only that, but the bags could actually be considered hazardous waste if they land in the garbage.

As a result of the Tribune’s study, the grocery chain Publix is revamping its line of reusable bags.

Another store to catch on was Wegmans, a major chain on the East coast. In early September, it replaced all its reusable bags after discovering some of them had up to 799 PPM.

On the other hand, some cities – fueled by their desire to “be green,” are pushing reusable bags by making plastic bags more of a hassle to consumers. Cities like D.C. and Seattle have implemented a tax on paper and plastic bags to incentivize consumers to go green.

And in Los Angeles, the County Board of Supervisors will vote on November 16 whether to ban plastic bags altogether.

But the real icing on the cake? All those reusable bags are being made and imported from China – 3 billion, in fact, in the last decade. That means 10 reusable bags per person in the U.S. for the last 10 years.