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Do Reusable Shopping Bags Contain Excessive Amounts of Lead?

Beware the toxins hiding in your shopping bags. First a study from the Environmental Working Group revealed that the toxin BPA is present on store receipts from popular retailers, and now the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) has released lab results allegedly showing that excessive amounts of lead are present in shopping bags from chains including CVS, Safeway, Staples, and Walgreens.

There's just one major caveat: The Center for Consumer Freedom isn't exactly an objective organization. CCF bills itself as being "devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices"—an organization that "speak(s) up whenever activists propose curtailing consumer freedom." According to SourceWatch, the CCF is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol, and tobacco industries.

The study (PDF) seems legitimate enough on the surface, at least. The organization collected bags made of nonwoven polypropylene—the most commonly used reusable grocery bag material—from a number of chains across the U.S. in December 2010 and tested them at Frontier Global Sciences, a certified heavy metal testing lab. The result: high levels of lead in many of the bags. CVS, for example, offers bags containing 697 ppm of lead—almost seven times the 100 ppm legal limit.

"Across the country, legislators are proposing bills to ban or tax paper and plastic bags, but the unintended consequence of such legislation is that people are using reusable bags, which independent testing shows can often contain excessive levels of lead," said CCF Senior Research Analyst J. Justin Wilson in a statement. "As an advocate for consumer choice, I believe consumers should have the option of using lead-free plastic and paper bags when they're bringing home their groceries."

Should consumers have the option of using lead-free bags? Certainly, but retailers are capable of offering lead-free—and non-plastic—shopping bags. The CCF has brought attention to the lead issue, sure, but this only highlights the need for better oversight of non-plastic bags.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.