Senator wants probe of lead in reusable grocery bags

November 15, 2010 (CHICAGO)

A study found that some reusable grocery bags sold nationwide are manufactured in China, and that once the bags wear down, lead can rub off on food.

Some environmentally conscious shoppers go to great lengths to reuse their shopping bags. But the recent study of some reusable bags has local merchants checking their products for lead content.

"All retailers are starting to look at their supply and make sure their customers are getting what's appropriate," said Dave Vite, Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Monday, Senator Charles Schumer of New York asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to look into how much lead paint is in some reusable bags.

Schumer's plea comes after a survey by The Tampa Tribune found high levels of lead in some grocery chain reusable bags.

"When our families go to the grocery store looking for safe and healthy foods to feed their kids, the last thing they should have to worry about are toxic bags," Schumer said in a statement.

Illinois' Director of Public Health Dr. Damon Arnold says, if ingested, lead can cause developmental and kidney problems, so he urges caution while they gather more information, especially in households with children.

"I would tell people, if they are concerned about it, keep those bags away from the children," said Dr. Arnold. "Put them in a closet until we get more information."

Until more is revealed, the director of the Illinois Recycling Association hopes the revelation doesn't derail recycling efforts.

"People want to do the right thing," said Mike Mitchell, "and as they figure out what the right thing is, sometimes information may come out...that causes them to change course slightly or re-evaluate and come up with an even better way."

Most of the bags with high lead levels were from grocery store chains in the South. They had elaborate illustration or photographs and were made in China.

Now, Chicago-area health officials and retailers are tracking down vendors of those bags to make sure they are not the same used locally.

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