NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Reusable shopping bags may be good for the environment, but a new study casts doubt on whether they are bad for our health.

More than a dozen companies around the country currently sell or distribute bags that contain lead in amounts greater than 100 parts per million (ppm), the limit set by 19 states, according to a report by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit group.

The center partnered with Frontier Global Sciences, a Seattle-based lab, to test dozens of reusable bags and found 21 of these surpassed the lead limit, including those bags offered from major chains like Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT) and Staples, both of which had lead in amounts of nearly 300 parts per million.

The worst offenders on the list were bags offered by CVS and Safeway, a grocery chain, each of which contained nearly 700 ppm worth of lead. In fact, the CVS bag contained so much lead it was recalled November 2010, but the others on this list remain in circulation.

“Across the country legislators are proposing bills to ban or tax paper and plastic bags, but the unintended consequence of such legislation is that people are using reusable bags, which independent testing shows can often contain excessive levels of lead” said CCF Senior Research Analyst J. Justin Wilson.

In recent years, many retailers have introduced these bags into their stores, usually sold for about $1, to appeal to eco-conscious consumers who prefer to reuse a single bag rather than rely on countless plastic bags for their shopping needs.  However, as this report points out, many of these bags are currently produced in China and may be a product of the same manufacturing methods that have caused toys and other products in that country to contain excessive amounts of lead.

“In the end, retailers shouldn’t have been goaded into selling these bags in the first place,” Williams said. “They were merely doing their best to respond to environmental activists’ demands.”

However, for all the pessimism of those who conducted the report, there is hope for consumers who want to continue using these bags, as many of the bags analyzed for this study were actually well below the 100 ppm threshold. For example, reusable bags at Trader Joe’s contain just 0.36 ppm worth of lead, and bags offered at Wegmans and IKEA contain less than 5 ppm.

It may still be possible to help the environment without hurting ourselves, but as this study points out, tighter regulation may be needed to weed out those bags that potentially pose a risk to our health.

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