Healthy Living: Reusable Grocery Bags- Shades of Green? 

By- Dr. Amy MoviusEnvironmental awareness has increased dramatically in recent years – globally, nationally, politically and in about any other way one can think of. Some years ago, reusable shopping bags made their appearance. They are now a common sight – ready for purchase along side the tabloids and candy bars – at checkout counters of many grocery stores. As these bags have become more popular, they have become more fashionable and can be found in a variety of colors and designs. Attention has recently been directing toward an unwitting consequence of these bags: that some may contain significant amounts of lead.Earlier this month, a newspaper in Florida reported a story in which 2 dozen different reusable bags were obtained from the largest grocery stores in state. Each bag was tested for lead content twice. Some of these bags had lead levels that were quite high. These results are concerning as lead toxicity is no small manner. Lead is a neurotoxin and has been found to harmfully affect children’s IQ. This is why lead level screening of young children has been standard for many years.The (possible) presence of lead in reusable shopping bags poses 2 major concerns. The first is for contamination of food carried in these bags. There is good news on this count! Fortunately, the form the lead takes in these shopping bags is not easily extracted or leached, so the food carried should be unaffected.The second concern is, ironically, environmental. As these reusable bags wear out and are eventually disposed of, the lead can be released into the environment. The lead content of some of these bags was of a level at which the EPA would generally require further testing before accepting as suitable for landfill. There will undoubtedly be more information on this topic to come. In the meantime, however, it is still possible to be an environmentally conscious reusable bag shopper by following the “less is more” rule. In the Florida newspaper article, high lead levels were found in the more elaborately decorated shopping bags, especially those containing yellow or green paint. In contrast, plain nylon bags with little in the way of embellishment from multiple stores had lead levels near zero. If this isn’t reassuring enough, one can always ask for (and then recycle!) paper bags.