Reusable grocery bag leadReusable shopping bags made in China have drawn the ire of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who is calling for a federal investigation into how the bags found their way to consumers after a news report showed some of them contained dangerous levels of lead content.

Schumer is seeking to enlist the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to carry out the probe. At a press conference over the weekend, he cited an investigation by the Tampa Tribune, which found many of the reusable bags offered for sale by supermarket chains and discount stores had lead in their paint designs.

The risk to consumers comes from the likelihood of contamination in landfills after the bags are worn down and discarded. This creates an environmental hazard which can eventually cause the toxin to end up in the food supply chain.

It is further compounded by the lack of clear rules regulating disposal of the bags. Unlike batteries, medicines, and paint, which are considered hazardous waste and are subject to special handling by the government, currently there are no guidelines for the safe disposal of recycled plastic bags.

Over time, exposure to lead can weaken the immune system and damage the kidneys, as well as deter brain development in children.

Stores that were found to carry the tainted bags include Winn-Dixie, Publix, Wal-Mart, Target and Wegmans. A number of them give consumers a small discount if they bring a reusable bag instead of using a plastic bag from the store.

According to the report, Wegmans acknowledged some of its reusable bags had high levels of lead and discontinued their sale. It cautioned shoppers that the rest of the bags were safe to use, but should be returned to the store before disposal. Wegmans operates stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New jersey, Virginia and Maryland.

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