Some disturbing news came to my attention recently. You know those reusable bags that are replacing plastic and paper bags; those bags that help reduce waste in our landfills? Well, a recent investigation in the Tampa Bay area (my hometown) has found that many of these bags contain dangerous levels of lead!

The investigation was lead by the local newspaper, the Tampa Tribune. They tested an array of bags from different stores. As it turns out, the bags vary in the amount of lead they contain. Bags with more elaborate illustrations (especially green and yellow in color) contain the highest amounts of lead—enough that may qualify the bags as hazardous if disposed with household trash.

The current allowable level of paint on consumer products is 90 parts per million (ppm), but some bags tested contained levels as high as 194 ppm. Even more alarming, a separate, independent study performed this past summer found that some bags contained lead at levels up to 799 ppm! Bags with the simplest illustrations had the lowest levels of lead. But if customers are concerned about the bags, taking them back to the store is a good idea.

Lead is a neurotoxin, associated with lowering IQ levels in children and with fertility problems in adults. Lead can remain in the body for many years. Experts are still discovering the adverse health effects of lead, and as this occurs, acceptable levels of lead in many products are continually lowered. Researchers agree that there is no possible “safe” level of lead.

What to do about saving the earth, then? The way I see it, changing to canvas bags (plain bags with no designs) will be the best way to avoid lead, but still be ecologically minded. There will probably be many new types of bags produced as a result of this lead scare, so be on the lookout for replacements at you local health food stores in coming weeks.