plastic bagsDisney-themed reusable shopping bags sold at Safeway carry more than 15 times the federal limit for lead in children's products, an environmental watchdog group has found.

The Center for Environmental Health, a California-based non-profit that crusades against the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products, reported the high levels of lead after it tested the bags, which feature "Toy Story" and "Cars" illustrations. The group also said this is not the first time Disney has allowed lead-tainted toys, baby products, and other items to be sold.The group sent legal notices to Disney, Safeway, and Advanced Publisher, maker of the bags, informing them that the products violate the state's consumer protection law. It is demanding that the companies pull the bags from shelves and reformulate them to remove lead content, and is asking the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate.

"Parents should know that the Disney brand does not imply a higher standard of safety for children's products," said Michael Green, the Center's executive director. Disney products previously recalled or cited for high lead levels include children's toy jewelry sets, baby bibs, diaper bags, lunchboxes, Hannah Montana products, and other items.

If ingested, lead can weaken the immune system, damage the kidneys, and cause irreversible brain damage in children.

Reusable bags that contain lead in their painted designs have been found on sale at many other nationwide stores as well. As WalletPop reported in November, lead-tainted shopping bags sold at Winn-Dixie, Publix, Walmart, Target and Wegmans prompted a call by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) for a federal investigation into how the products ended up on the market.

An industry association for fast food, corn syrup, and plastics manufacturers has in response launched an ad campaign that suggests activist proposals to ban disposable plastic bags are misguided and driven by junk science. The Center for Consumer Freedom, which has been criticized as a front group for the industries that pay for it, claims high lead levels found in reusable shopping bags make a solid case for returning to single-use plastic bags.

But there are other options for the environmentally conscious, said Caroline Cox, a spokeswoman for the Center for Environmental Health.

"The plastics industry says we should avoid their unhealthy reusable bags and stick to their environmentally damaging plastics disposables," she said. While the majority of reusable shopping bags still do not pose lead hazards, the best bet for eco-conscious consumers might be cloth bags, which avoid the contamination problem altogether, Cox noted.

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