WASHINGTON – US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has requested the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission investigate and ban reusable shopping bags that contain higher than acceptable levels of lead. Many of these bags are manufactured in China and sold to grocery stores, who then sell them to customers.

Although there may be no immediate danger to human health, food products come into direct contact with these bags and long-term exposure can pose serious health and environmental risks, he claimed.

Last September the problem came to light when Wegmans Food Markets Inc., a supermarket chain with stores in New York and four other states, announced it would be replacing 725,000 reusable shopping bags made in China in its stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Maryland. The announcement came following a report by the Empire State Consumer Project that found the green bags contained lead at 799 parts per million – more than double the amount allowed in children’s products by the CPSC. The CPSC allows lead in children’s products at up to 300 parts per million; next year, the limit will drop to 100 parts per million.

Since then, several other reports have shown higher-than-acceptable levels of lead in reusable shopping bags sold at chain supermarkets in other states such as Publix and Winn-Dixie.

Several recent reports show a significant number of reusable shopping bags contained more than 100 parts per million (PPM) in heavy metals. In some cases, bags contained as many as five times the allowable limits. The paint on lead-filled bags has the ability to peal and flake off, coming into direct contact with exposed groceries.

Exposure to high levels of lead can damage the nervous and immune systems and impair kidney function over time. When disposed of in landfills, these bags can leak toxins into the soil and water and have the potential to create even more environmental problems.

Schumer noted reusable shopping bags have become an important part of consumer and grocery-store efforts to reduce waste and should be promoted, but manufacturers of the bags need to ensure that the products they sell to grocery stores and retailers are safe. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act requires manufactures to use independent labs to test products before being sold in the US.

Schumer called for an investigation to determine why these bags were not properly tested in accordance with the law.