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What to Know Before You Freak Out About the Reusable Bag Lead Problem

Here's why you should be skeptical of the study that's telling you to scrap your lead-tainted reusable bags.

On the heels of a November newspaper exposé that found elevated levels of lead in reusable bags from CVS stores, a new study, picked up by USA Today yesterday, has announced that there were high levels of lead in the reusable bags being given out at several other major American grocery stores, including Safeway, Walgreen's, and Bloom.

That report, unfortunately, was not inaccurate. But before you go renouncing reusable bags in favor of your old disposable paper and plastic sacks, it's probably best to know some other important facts.


Firstly, "high levels of lead" are still small amounts of lead. This isn't to say you want your groceries coated in the stuff, of course, but know what you're dealing with: At the highest levels, the reusable bags had a lead content that of 697 parts per million. For context, many, many homes in the Northeastern United States rest on soil with lead contents of around 550 parts per million.

Beyond that, one should consider the source of the reusable bag study: the Center for Consumer Freedom. Again, while the CCF's science was completely valid, the organization itself is a questionable one. As Fast Company notes, "According to SourceWatch, the CCF is a front group for the restaurant, alcohol, and tobacco industries." Not only that, but CCF Executive Director Richard Berman has plainly said that he likes to attack progressive activists: "We always have a knife in our teeth [with activists]. ... [Our strategy] is to shoot the messenger. ... We've got to attack their credibility as spokespersons."

Lead in your grocery bags is obviously not good, but a great many reusable bags do not have lead in them, and you should keep in mind that the lobbying efforts to kill reusable bags have been profound.

If you're really concerned, here's a handy guide to help you avoid lead-tainted bags. And, in the future, plan to be wary of any CCF-based studies.

photo (cc) via Flickr user timparkinson

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