Today the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, is running junior full-page ads in three major California newspapers, kicking off a campaign to educate consumers and politicians about the potential dangers of increased importation and distribution of certain reusable shopping bags.

According to a new Opinion Research Corporation poll commissioned by CCF, 56% of Americans are not at all aware that their reusable grocery bags may contain lead and bacteria, which explains why—according to the same poll—68% of reusable bag owners have either never washed their bag or only washed it once in the last year.

Some reusable shopping bags sold or given away by stores all over the country contain lead levels above what is allowable by many state laws. Federal and state regulatory agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Protection Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency have been called on by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to investigate a report that showed that nearly half of all reusable bags tested exceed many state laws regarding toxins in packaging. In addition to calling for a federal investigation, Senator Schumer stated, “When our families go to the grocery store looking for safe and healthy foods to feed their kids, the last thing they should have to worry about are toxic bags.”

“Demonizing, taxing, or banning plastic bags—as they have in San Francisco, Los Angeles County and San Jose—is a perfect example of knee-jerk, feel-good regulation that brings with it myriad unintended consequences,” said CCF Senior Research Analyst J. Justin Wilson. “Politicians often respond to activist-driven junk science by demonizing, banning or taxing products without giving any thought to what people will use instead. Now recent research demonstrates that some of these bags contain lead and can be a breeding ground for bacteria. In the end, the new alternative can end up being worse than its replacement.”

The newspaper ads are running today in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Orange County Register. The text of the ad reads:

What your family needs to know about reusable bags imported from China

Did you know that many reusable bags imported from China frequently have excessive levels of lead? China is the number one supplier of reusable bags in the United States, sending almost half a billion into our homes each year. Recent investigations by the Tampa Tribune and consumer protection groups uncovered high levels of lead and heavy metals in reusable bags sold by multiple national and regional retailers.

Senator Charles Schumer and other congressional leaders have called on government safety agencies to investigate why such elevated levels of lead are coming into contact with our food and leaching into the environment. Perhaps even more alarming, a University of Arizona study found fecal coliform bacteria and E. coli in some of the bags.

Wilson added: “When you tax soda, people drink non-soda beverages which can contain more calories. When you restrict salt levels in prepared foods, people over-salt the bland result. When butter was demonized in the ’90s, food companies switched to transfats like margarine as a healthier alternative. And when you ban and tax disposable shopping bags, people use Chinese-manufactured reusable bags that contain excessive levels of lead and bacteria. The only way to avoid these unintended consequences is to let consumers, rather than regulators or lawmakers, decide for themselves.”