A recent study conducted by the Tampa Tribune and tested by the Thornton Laboratory of Tampa, found lead in the paint used to decorate the outside of tote bags sold at many large retail and grocery chains, such as Wal-Mart, Target and Winn-Dixie.
The results caught the attention of Senator Charles Schumer D-NY who is now calling for a federal investigation. The study also found that many of these bags are not surprisingly Made in China. It appears the more elaborate the decorating on the outside of the bags, the more lead present.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that lead levels are within the recommended standards. However, the public concern is whose keeping count? We don’t track our lead exposure and therefore we have no way of knowing how much exposure we’re actually getting. We can find ways to reduce lead exposure, but we can’t specifically know just how much exposure we are actually getting at any given time.
Both Wal-Mart and Target have issued statements that they will pursue lead-free, reusable bags. It appears the general public still desires the use of reusable bags in order to reduce the amount of plastic bags that end-up in a landfill.
Another concern is the use of dirty or contaminated bags. It’s a common practice to take your reusable tote bags to the store, lay them on a conveyer belt that may or may not contain bacteria from dairy and meat juices, take the bags home to unload, and then throw them in the trunk of your car. Rarely do we wash these bags.
Most likely these bags will harbor harmful bacteria especially if we use them to hold meat and dairy products. Even produce (fruits and vegetables) can create a growth factor within these bags if they are not washed.
First, consider getting rid of the bags that may contain high levels of lead. It’s not worth the exposure. Fortunately, the lead containing paint on these tote bags has been exposed and major stores are looking into lead-free alternatives.
In the meantime:
Lead-free canvas bags may be able to withstand a good wash in the washing machine and a run through the clothes dryer. The heat from the dryer will help kill bacterial colonies. Wash these bags separate from your clothes and linens.
Plastic tote bags meant for cold foods, can be wiped-out with a good disinfectant cleaner. Always wash your hands afterwards.
If recent studies concern you enough to stop using reusable bags, you could reuse the plastic bags in a small trash bin in lieu of larger trash bins. You may have to take the garbage out more often, but you won’t have that stinky garbage smell in your kitchen either.
None of these recommendations are fool-proof. Use your best judgment.
The Tampa Tribune