TAMPA, Fla. -- The Publix supermaket chain is asking suppliers to find ways to make reusable grocery bags with less lead after a newspaper investigation found elevated levels in some Florida bags.
The Tampa Tribune tested more than a dozen bags from major grocers and found certain bags sold in Winn-Dixie and Publix stores had lead levels that concerned health officials. In a preview of a Sunday article, the newspaper's website reported that some bags had enough lead they could be considered hazardous waste if residents disposed of them in household trash.
The lead 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, the paper found. But over time, lab experts note, the bags wear down and paint can flake off, and eventually reusable bags could accumulate in landfills, presenting another ecological issue.
Publix officials stress their bags comply with current federal laws regarding lead content. The newspaper reported Thursday that Publix is asking suppliers to find ways to make bags with less lead.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Thursday, Winn Dixie said that it is confident that the reusable bags are safe to use and reuse as intended.
"Recent information suggests there is an opportunity to improve this solution as it pertains to the disposal of these bags," wrote spokeswoman Robin Miller. "We will continue to work closely with our suppliers to make certain that we are in compliance with industry standards."
Miller added that any Winn Dixie customer who has a concern about a bag is welcome to bring it back to the store for a full refund.
Similar concerns prompted northern grocer Wegmans to voluntarily exchange thousands of its bags.
Lead is considered a toxin and can cause learning disabilities in children and fertility problems in adults.
Publix has more than 1,000 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee; its website says it is the largest employee-owned supermarket chain in the nation. Winn-Dixie, which recently reorganized and emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, operates hundreds of stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.