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Plastic Shopping Bags Laced with Dangerous Levels of Toxic Lead

Plastic Shopping Bags Laced with Dangerous Levels of Toxic Lead

Did you go shopping for holiday presents at a big box retailer or shopping mall this season? Chances are you carried home at least one plastic shopping bag that could be a danger to your health.

New research suggests that clogging up our gutters, and poisoning our soil and water aren’t the only risks associated with rampant plastic bag use. According to a report by the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse [PDF], some vibrant solid-colored plastic shopping bags contain high concentrations of lead, a clear violation of state laws.

The Clearinghouse screened 132 single-use bags for the presence of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium. These toxic metals are in the inks used to print or color the bags, despite being regulated by 19 U.S. states. These laws prohibit the intentional use of any amount of these four metals in any packaging or packaging component, such as inks and colorants.  If the metals are incidentally present (defined as an unintended or undesired ingredient) in the packaging component or material, the laws restrict the sum total concentration of these four metals to less than 100 parts per million.

The good news is that only three bags, two yellow and one red, failed the screening test for lead. The bad news is that the concentration of lead was approximately 10,000 ppm, or 1 percent by weight, in the bags that failed.

These results mean that “for every 100 pounds of these shopping bags, we’re introducing about 1 pound of lead into commerce,” said Alex Stone with the State of Washington’s Department of Ecology, which performed the screening with TPCH. Only one of the bags was marked with the country of origin, and in that case it was manufactured in the U.S. “It was a surprise to find a packaging sample manufactured in the U.S. that violated our state laws,” said Kathleen Hennings of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “In the past we’ve typically only found lead and cadmium in packaging manufactured overseas.”

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t name the companies caught using the toxic shopping bags. It does, however, tell us that 95 percent of the packaging samples (125) were shopping or mailing bags. Seven samples (5 percent) were food packaging. Similarly, 95 percent of the samples were inks or colorants on plastic, and 5 percent were inks on paper-based packaging.

Of course, an easy answer to this problem is to simply bring your own: cloth or mesh bags can be used many times, and can be made from recycled or organic materials. There’s a caveat, however. Most colored plastic shopping bags are distributed by non-food retailers, like clothing and electronics stores. While bringing a bag is common in grocery stores, it’s often viewed with suspicion at other types of retailers, and this can stop the public from attempting to bring them in. Still, with an increasing number of cities enacting plastic bag bans, consumers and retailers may be forced to alter their perspective.

Related Reading:

Plastic Bag Linked To Stomach Virus Outbreak

Controversy Over Plastic Bag Bans: Research vs. Claims

How Many Marine Mammals Did Your Plastic Grocery Bag Kill?

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106 comments

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4:04AM PDT on Mar 31, 2013

It's time to work out something safe to use

9:52AM PST on Jan 18, 2013

“It was a surprise to find a packaging sample manufactured in the U.S. that violated our state laws,” "Unfortunately, the report doesn’t name the companies caught using the toxic shopping bags"
Would like to know name of US company that violated laws... ;(

9:28AM PST on Jan 17, 2013

No surprise, plastic is the worst! Hate it, I just don´t use plastic bags!!

5:18PM PST on Jan 4, 2013

noted

2:50AM PST on Jan 4, 2013

Good point Deborah L. It's great to bring your own cloth bags but we need to make sure they are washed.

2:27AM PST on Jan 4, 2013

here's another view for you to consider , Scott h....... .>
Plastic Shopping Bag Linked to Stomach Virus Outbreak http://www.care2.com/causes/plastic-shopping-bag-linked-to-stomach-virus-outbreak.html#bbtw=882491960 ..

3:38PM PST on Jan 3, 2013

Catch 22. I use my cloth/mesh bags when I can. However, the clothes stores do not like you to use them and I can understand why.

5:00PM PST on Jan 2, 2013

Btw, I'm in Australia.

4:59PM PST on Jan 2, 2013

This is hardly surprising, that's why so many of them stink and give me asthma. Which is another reason I take my own reusable calico/jute bags everywhere.

12:38PM PST on Jan 2, 2013

So... 3 out of 125 bags (an incredibly small sample to base any real conclusion from) randomly chosen had illegal levels of lead in the colorant, so we should ban all bags? These bags with high levels of lead had to have been imports. Some stores buy stock bags that have been imported. but MOST retailers in the USA are using US made bags. And the vast majority of legitimate importers also comply with laws.

The way I see this, there are small amount of manufacturers (who knows, these three bags could have all come from the same factory) that are making and entire industry look bad.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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