The Tampa Tribune tested more than a dozen bags from major grocers and found that certain bags sold in Winn-Dixie and Publix stores had lead levels that concerned health officials.Bags tested by independent firms found levels ranging from 87 parts per million to nearly 200 parts per million depending on the bag tested.
In a preview of a Sunday article, the newspaper's website reported some bags had enough lead that they could be considered hazardous waste if residents disposed of them in household trash.
The lead appears to be in a form that's not easily extracted or "leached" out, so there is less concern the lead would easily rub off on food when the bags are new, the paper found. But over time, lab experts note, the bags wear down and paint can flake off, and eventually reusable bags could accumulate in landfills, presenting another ecological issue.
Publix officials stress their bags comply with current federal laws regarding lead content. The newspaper reported Thursday that Publix is asking suppliers to find ways to make bags with less lead.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Thursday, Winn-Dixie said it is confident the reusable bags are safe to use and reuse as intended.
"Recent information suggests there is an opportunity to improve this solution as it pertains to the disposal of these bags," wrote Winn-Dixie spokeswoman Robin Miller. "We will continue to work closely with our suppliers to make certain that we are in compliance with industry standards."
Miller added that any Winn-Dixie customer who has a concern about a bag is welcome to bring it back to the store for a full refund.
Both companies will be coming out with new bags.
Wegmans bags had a similar concern. Wegmans offered up trade-ins on hundreds of thousands of reusable bags because of lead concerns.
The bag at issue is decorated with an image of green peas. Wegmans pulled that bag, as well as a "2009 Holiday" bag, from shelves Sept. 3 after internal tests confirmed high lead levels. Both bags are green and were made in China. Signs went up in stores Friday to alert customers to the replacement policy.Meanwhile, those reusable bags turn out to be quite filthy once you think about it because most people don't think to wash them out.
"We decided to discontinue these two designs out of an abundance of caution and because of our commitment to sustainability and the environment," said Jo Natale, Wegmans spokeswoman.
RAMP applauded Wegmans taking voluntary action and acting quickly on the issue.
"We are not saying that Wegmans is selling a product that is going to poison anyone, but we don't need additional lead coming into our country from China," said Judy Braiman, president of RAMP.
The group urges all retailers to demand a certificate of compliance from their suppliers and to do their own testing for harmful chemicals before putting products out for sale.
"Our position on lead, or for that matter on other [toxins], is it could be a health issue if it gets into the waste stream," said Braiman. "If any of these reusable bags with lead or other toxic chemicals becomes abraded it could pose a risk of exposure."
Wegmans disagreed. Consumer lead concerns are usually associated with toys young children might put in their mouths.
"Since this is not a product for children, and in fact, the tag on our bag warns that it should not be given to children or babies, we do not see this as a risk," said Ann McCarthy, a Wegmans spokeswoman.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants a probe into the lead content of these reusable bags.