Publix officials will revamp their lineup of re-usable grocery bags sold in their stores after a Tampa Tribune investigation found elevated levels of lead in material of some bags.
Tribune tests showed certain bags from Winn-Dixie and Publix stores had levels of lead that concerned health officials. And some bags had enough lead that they could be considered hazardous waste if residents put them in their household trash.
This follows a similar issue that led the Northern grocer Wegmans to voluntarily exchange thousands of their bags.
Publix officials stress that their bags comply with current federal laws regarding lead content. But given the Tribune findings, and lower thresholds due next year, Publix is asking bag suppliers to find ways to make bags with less lead.
Winn-Dixie officials said they were confident their bags were safe to use, and solved an environmental need. But Tribune tests "suggests there is an opportunity to improve this solution as it pertains to disposal of these bags, and ensure the ongoing benefits to our customers and the communities we serve," the company said in a statement.
Winn-Dixie said it would refund the cost of any bag for a concerned customer.
Lead is considered a toxin, and can cause learning disabilities in children and fertility problems in adults.
The lead in the bags appears to be in a form that's not easily extracted or "leached" out. So there is less concern the lead would easily rub off on food when the bags are new. But over time lab experts note the bags wear down and paint can flake off, and eventually re-usable bags would accumulate in landfills, presenting another ecological issue.
The Tribune tested more than a dozen bags from major grocers in the area. Not all bags had lead. To find out which bags had the highest levels, and which ones didn't, read Sunday's report on the issue in The Tampa Tribune.