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How safe is your shopping bag? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

How safe is your shopping bag?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Paper or plastic? It's a decision most shoppers are confronted with at the grocery store. For some, there's a third option: the reusable bag. It's a popular choice at Burlington's City Market.

"It's a bag where they take recycled water bottles and they shred them, then weave them into fabric," said Allison Weinhagen of City Market.

City Market distributes about 30,000 of these reusable bags every year. They come from a California company called 1 Bag at a Time.

"A reusable bag takes a little bit of plastic and goes a long way and it reduces our footprint on the planet. And it reduces our need for disposal," manufacturer Lisa Foster said.

Foster says one of her bags lasts up to two years and will replace 1,000 disposable bags. But there's a tag inside that's causing some angst.

"We get a couple of calls every year. Of course, for Vermonters, the tag is a little jarring," Weinhagen said. "People are not used to seeing it, but there's really nothing wrong with these bags."

Here's the warning: "This product may contain chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm."

There are more than 900 chemicals that trigger this warning label under Proposition 65. For decades, California has been the lone state requiring businesses to notify consumers about possible toxicity.

"They have two very large scientific bodies that have to determine that the chemical is toxic, so it does represent a lot of good scientific work," Vermont Toxicologist Sarah Vose said.

"It is surprising," said Ty Danco, a customer. "Knowing City Market, I would think it would be hemp or something like that."

Since these plastic bags are made in China and sold nationwide, Foster chose to label all products, not just the ones intended for California customers. But she maintains her bags are safe.

"As long as you're using it for the intended use, for short-term storage or carrying of products, there's no risk at all," Foster said. "I wouldn't recommend using it for long-term storage or direct contact with any kind of food or liquids you might be drinking."

"That's ridiculous. It is a totally unnecessary threat to human health," said Paul Burns, who heads Vermont's Public Interest Research Group.

The consumer and environmental advocacy nonprofit VPIRG supports Prop 65. Burns says it allows consumers to make informed choices.

"There's almost no good reason that a business would continue to use a toxic chemical in a product of any sort if they can get away without that toxic chemical," Burns said.

Others say so many products contain this warning, it's lost its meaning. And manufacturers, like Foster, argue it makes their products sound unnecessarily dangerous.

"Education, information is always good," Danco said.

The health department says the harm level is chemical specific. So if you have any concerns, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer directly and request more information on the chemicals that trigger the warning.

We don't want to give you the impression these bags are the only items in question. Reporter Jennifer Costa ordered slippers and they came with a Prop 65 tag. The warnings are most commonly found on items like children's toys, soda, costume jewelry, lunchboxes and electronic devices.

The health department is getting ready to implement a law to give consumers information on chemicals in toys and children's items. It should take effect in 2017.

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