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Eat the bread but skip the lead.

Many people routinely recycle packaging items, from rubber bands to wrapping paper and tinfoil. But those who reuse plastic bread bags should make sure the printed side never touches food.

Researchers have detected a lead content averaging about 26 milligrams in the printed sections of 17 of 18 different bread bags tested. A weak acid extracted more than 6 percent of this lead in just 10 minutes, report Clifford Weisel and his co-workers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway.

In a survey of 106 parents -- mostly "well-educated mothers of young children" -- the team found that 41 percent reuse their bread bags. More important, 16 percent turn the bags inside out before storing food in them, "thus putting food in contact with the lead paint," the researchers write in the June AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. "We were told of paint flaking from the inverted package onto stored food," they add. Anecdotal information suggested that people invert the bags to dry them out or to remove crumbs that might become moldy.

The researchers estimate that weak acids such as vinegar might leach 0.1 microgram of lead onto an area the size of a slice of bread -- double the lead typically consumed in a day, according to EPA estimates. While that amount poses no immediate health threat, Weisel's team nonetheless concludes that leaded printing on such bags should be prohibited as an "unnecessary risk to health."

Herbert L. Needleman, a toxicologist at the University of Pittsburgh, agrees that this previously unrecognized source of lead should be banned -- but not for the small risk it poses in food. In an accompanying editorial, he notes that Nelson's report suggests bread bags may add 0.8 metric ton of lead to the U.S. trash stream daily. Incinerated bags will release lead into the air, he says, providing "an incremental dose that we do not need."
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Title Annotation:the printed labels on reused plastic bread bags are a source of lead contamination
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 8, 1991
Words:322
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