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

Via elephant journal
on May 13, 2013
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Photo: Toban Black
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 DahlLindsay 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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8 Responses to “Are Retailers to Blame for Our Toxic Chemical Problem? ~ Lindsay Dahl”

  1. Amanda Frayer says:

    We are at a turning point and I truly believe that retailers want to get in front of this problem. We are learning more everyday about the dangers of toxics in products. This makes the experience of shopping frustrating, because many products don't have labels and it's time-consuming to read the ones that do. We need to communicate this to local store managers. If we all took the time to do this, consumer demand would effectively change the market!

  2. Lindsay says:

    Amanda, I couldn't agree more. It's SO frustrating to try and navigate around toxic chemicals. I think the tipping point is near, and it is my hope that some of the top ten retailers will help pave the way.

  3. Hilary says:

    Thank you, Lindsay, for your work helping us ALL live healthier lives!

  4. Lindsay says:

    Thank you Hilary for being reading and taking part! You can take action at

  5. Gabriel says:

    The link to cosmetics was helpful — showing which toxics are in what products. Ugh.

    I appreciate that you kept it simple and didn't get all "doomsday" / depressing on us (even though it is depressing). Nice to learn what's harmful and what else to think about/ do to live a better life. I plan to read the labels when I'm in the kitchen and shower and make the switch if there's something bad in my shampoo, soap, detergent, deodorant, gels etc

  6. Lindsay says:

    Glad this was useful Gabriel and appreciate the feedback. Silly that we have to spend time checking the labels for toxic chemicals huh? Especially since many products don't actually label which chemicals are used. All the more reason for retailers to step up and Congress to get moving on the Safe Chemicals Act!

  7. Tara says:

    Well said! While it's great that retailers have taken some steps to address the problem, I agree that more needs to be done to ramp it up.

  8. Lindsay says:

    It's true, the steps they have taken have been small in the grad scheme of things. We hope retailers step up to take REAL action on toxic chemicals.