Lead Paint in Reusable Bags Raises Safety Concerns

Nov 16, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A report published last week by The Tampa Tribune that
found reusable bags sold at Publix and Winn-Dixie contained high levels of
lead has led to a flurry of announcements by health officials, politicians,
the chains and the editorial departments of rival news organizations.

health experts told the Tribune and other publications that elevated
levels of lead in the paint on the bags might require special handling in their
disposal. Simply dropping the bags into a landfill could open the door for
lead to find its way into ground water.

New York Sen. Chuck
Schumer asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to
investigate whether the reusable bags pose a danger.

Sen. Schumer said at a
press conference, "Adding insult to injury, guess
where most of these bags are made? China, a country that has flaunted safety
when it comes to American imports over and over again. Whether it’s toys or
food or now bags, China has no regard for American safety."

according to the Tribune, the CPSC allows 300 parts per million
of lead in products made for kids. In August, the CPSC will drop the number
to 100. Any paint on products intended for consumers can not have any more
than 90 parts per million.

The lead levels in the Publix bags tested were within
federal limits, although the company has given associates the leeway to make
shoppers not satisfied with that explanation happy.

Winn-Dixie, which had bags
as high as 121 parts per million, has issued a recall.

"All available research indicates these bags are safe for their intended
customer use," said Robin Miller, Winn-Dixie’s director of media
and public relations, in a statement. "There is a need, however, to look
at this from a long-term environmental perspective to determine if the potential
exists that these bags cannot be disposed of safely. For this reason, we feel
it’s better to stop selling them now."

An editorial on The
Florida Times-Union
website took issue with the
initial report and reaction to it. According to the Times-Union, short
of eating the bag, children had little to fear and landfills
were safe because the bags’ lining would prevent any lead from seeping into
the ground water. "Maybe
some experts need to find something constructive to do in life instead of trying
to scare overprotective parents," it suggested.

Consumer Reports offered another take. "There doesn’t seem
to be any proof that reusable bags pose an immediate health threat, either
in our limited screenings or in any of the cited studies, which tend to focus
on concerns that lead from discarded bags could seep into groundwater. Still,
you’re wise to avoid even small levels of lead, especially if there’s any chance
of young children coming in contact with the contaminated objects."

Discussion Questions: What is your reaction to the investigation that found
lead in the paint used in reusable bags sold at Publix and Winn-Dixie? Did the
chains react properly based on the circumstances?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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8 Comments on "Lead Paint in Reusable Bags Raises Safety Concerns"

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David Biernbaum
10 years 6 months ago

The possibilities that there might be lead in re-usable grocery bags brings to light an interesting and erroneous reality; that some of the things designed to save the planet might be hurting the people that live on it. A leading professor at a major university in the Midwest once took a lot of grief after he lectured that paper cups are a much wiser way to go in the winter when germs are being passed along in the masses from silverware and glasses not properly sterilized in restaurants, hotels, and on airplanes.

Geoffrey Igharo
Geoffrey Igharo
10 years 6 months ago

This is really a lesson in buyer responsibility. Why did these bags need to be imported from China to the US in the first place? What’s the business case for it?

As far as I understand producing plastic bags is a pretty automated process. Or at least it should be. So labour cost differentials shouldn’t really be meaningful in the production costs. Where then is the basis for it to be cheaper to make these in China and transport them to the US?

Now of course if one can operate under a regime with low standards of regulation when it comes to pollution, product quality control and so on, then I guess there are savings to made.

In other words the buyers concerned either knew or should have expected that something was being swept under the rug when they chose to source this product from the lowest cost vendor.

Charles P. Walsh
Charles P. Walsh
10 years 6 months ago

To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

CFL lightbulbs reduce energy consumption but could add large amounts of mercury to the waste streams.

Ethanol is an alternative energy that reduces consumption of fossil fuels but consumes commodity feed stocks which increases raw materials and finished goods pricing and increases pollution of the watershed.

Reusable bags eliminated the production of billions of bags, reducing consumption of fossil fuels, reduced impact on landfills.

A better approach might be to utilize Life Cycle Analyses and other quantitative and qualitative studies before advancing and/or condemning environmental solutions.

Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
10 years 6 months ago

I would venture a guess that the specifications provided to the manufacturer did not mention what kind of paint was to be used. There were probably some visibility and durability specifications but nothing that detailed the type of paint. We always want to blame the bogeyman but often the blame should fall on procurement people who take “US standards” for granted, falsely thinking that the entire world is like the USA. If you want to buy something from a foreign producer, then go to the trouble of actually writing complete specifications.

Anne Howe
10 years 6 months ago

With the acceleration of sensational headlines, public perception on the reusable shopping bag issue could become a very big negative problem in a very short period of time.

I believe that Winn Dixie is smart to stop selling them, and that while the lead in the bags is within Federal standards, Publix is also wise to give associates the leeway to provide an option to make shoppers happy. They might do more to define what that means, however.

As a shopper, I use the bags for farmer’s market shopping, which means my food comes into direct contact with the bag and potentially the harmful effect of lead. I just switched a bunch of art supplies into my only reusable Publix bag, so it’s still quite useful but no longer will transport food.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 6 months ago

While I do think there is something to be said about too much lead in paint in plastic bags; I do not think it should be from grand standing politicians. Publix and the other retailers are more than aware of the social impact and would have managed it properly themselves. Much ado about nothing when it comes from the mouth of a politician.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 6 months ago

Lead from reusable supermarket bags will find its way into ground water quickest from being washed in clothes washing machines. The recent report that these bags are often unsanitary from various accumulated food drippings – especially meat drippings – also recommends frequent washing along with clothing.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
10 years 6 months ago

Just do not let the kids chew on them. πŸ™‚


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