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Activist Group Product Testing Leads To Recall
Volume 748
Sep. 16, 2010

An east coast grocery chain announced that it will stop selling reusable shopping bags that were found to have elevated levels of lead. A pair of bags from Wegmans supermarkets – the "green pea" and "holiday 2009" designs – will be replaced by the company if consumers want an exchange, though the grocery chain stressed this wasn't a mandated recall and that the bags could continue to be used safely. The action came after a consumer group tested the Chinese-manufactured bags and claimed that their lead levels exceeded legal limits. "This is not a food safety or children's health concern. Disposal is the only concern," reads a notice on the company's website, adding that Wegmans will take care of proper disposal.

The independent testing, conducted by the Empire State Consumer Project, found 799 parts per million of lead in the green pea design, nearly eight times the legal limit in New York, where lead limits can only go as high as 100 parts per million. According to Judy Braiman, president of the Empire State Consumer Project, the lead was found in the green paint of the bags. "The message to other companies is lead may be in their products," Braiman said. "They should be doing their own testing now." Braiman's group purchases products in stores and independently tests them for levels of harmful ingredients such as lead and cadmium.

Based in Rochester, NY, Wegmans has 76 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. Over 725,000 bags with the two designs have been sold. The state of New York is one of 19 states with laws regarding toxic metals in packaging (including lead, cadmium, mercury and more), but Wegmans considers the bag a consumer good and not packaging. Likewise, the company states the bags should not be considered children's products, which fall under the regulation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. Nevertheless, the company says it will post notices in its stores to notify customers.

"We are not saying that Wegmans is selling a product that is going to poison anyone," Braiman said, "but we don't need additional lead coming into our country from China."

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