May 14, 2013

Are Retailers to Blame for Our Toxic Chemical Problem? ~ Lindsay Dahl

Photo: Toban Black

I hear it almost every day: “I bought this couch at Retailer X, Y or Z; how do I know if it’s safe?”

These are worthwhile questions when trying to navigate a consumer purchasing landscape, where consumers have little access to information on toxic chemicals lurking in their products.

We identify with the retailers we shop at. I have my favorites, you probably have yours. So what role, if any, do retailers play in moving the market away from toxic chemicals?

Many of you may know that toxic chemicals are ending up in a variety of consumer products we come into contact with every single day. Due to our broken and inadequate federal laws, toxic chemicals are found in home electronics, building materials, couches, plastics, cosmetics and children’s products.

Most people assume that the government or the chemical industry is self-policing, but the reality is that our antiquated federal laws have left our health at risk, and consumers confused.

Retailers are also left in the dark due to our federal laws. They may be selling products that contain toxic chemicals, without their knowledge, because they too have little access to information on the chemicals that are in the products they sell, and any health effects that may be associated with those chemicals.

Consumers have already been responding and demanding safer, less toxic products. As a result, the market has been shifting and some product manufacturers, and retailers, have responded. But the response has been small when you look at the enormity of the problem.

In response, at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, we’ve asked the nation’s leading 10 retailers to work with us to move the market, in a major way, away from toxic chemicals. In a new campaign called Mind the Store, we’re hoping retailers will work with us to create action plans to move the market and their suppliers away from what we’re calling the Hazardous 100+ toxic chemicals.

It’s a big task, but many of the retailers have already taken steps to address toxic chemicals in their stores, and the response has shifted the market toward safer products. What might be possible if a retailer works to create a robust action plan on the Hazardous 100+? Putting the pressure on manufacturers and ultimately the chemical industry to stop using toxic chemicals.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the toxic chemicals we’re talking about:

  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing preservatives (in shampoos, lotions, wrinkle-free clothing and bedding)
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) and its sneaky cousin Bisphenol S (BPS) (found in canned food and thermal receipt paper)
  • Parabens (in cosmetics and personal care products)
  • Toxic flame retardants (couches, electronics and children’s products)
  • Phthalates (in PVC plastic, flooring, building materials and school supplies)

For more information on how to avoid these chemicals visit the Mind the Store website.

It’s clear that retailers have a lot of market power, and therefore a great responsibility to help us get tough on toxic chemicals. The question remains: The next time you go to your local retailer will you ask them to Mind the Store?

The time to take action is now. We need everyone to send a message to retailers that we want to work with them to get tough on toxic chemicals.

Follow us on Twitter: @SaferChemicals@Lindsay_SCHF


Lindsay Dahl is the Deputy Director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, where she directs the campaign’s field organizing, social media/online content and works with diverse coalition partners. Lindsay got her chops at advocacy work in Minnesota, where she helped pass the nation’s first ban on the toxic chemical BPA in children’s products. Lindsay is an avid reader, a Great Lakes enthusiast and Bikram yoga junkie.


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~Assistant Ed: Thandiwe Ogbonna

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