toxic chemicals

Nation's 10 Largest Retailers Urged to Dump Toxic Products

If the government won't rid products of toxic chemicals, retailers might.

By Emily Main


Nation's 10 Largest Retailers Urged to Dump Toxic Products

In a perfect world, stores would sell only safe cleaning products.

How much do you think your favorite store cares about your health? While some retailers are taking baby steps toward ridding certain products of toxic chemicals, they aren't doing enough, according to a new campaign sponsored by the advocacy group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

The campaign, called "Mind the Store," is sending letters to the country's 10 largest retailers, asking them to remove more than 100 chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive damage, and harm to wildlife that are commonly found in household consumer goods. The chemical list, which was compiled from research conducted by various state governments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the European Union, includes everything from parabens (preservatives in personal care products suspected of triggering breast cancer) to PFOA (a chemical used to manufacture nonstick cookware and other grease- and water-repelling fabric finishes linked to infertility).

The 10 retailers being targeted are:
1. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer
2. Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S.
3. Target, the country's second largest discount chain
4. Walgreens, the largest drugstore chain in the U.S.
5. Costco, the world's largest warehouse chain
6. The Home Depot, the world's largest home-improvement chain
7. CVS Caremark, the country's second-largest drugstore chain
8. Lowe's, the number-two U.S. home-improvement chain
9. Best Buy, the world's largest electronics retailer
10. Safeway, the number-two U.S. grocery-store chain

Many of these retailers have already taken steps to eliminate certain toxic chemicals from particular products before being asked or required to by federal agencies. For instance, Home Depot and Lowe's voluntarily stopped selling driveway sealants containing coal tar, a carcinogen, and Target agreed to remove PVC, a toxic form of plastic often contaminated with lead and hormone-disrupting plastic softeners called phthalates, from its store-brand products and packaging in 2007.

But that "retail regulation," as the group calls it, isn't enough. "It's not feasible to ask the average person to keep 100-plus chemicals in their head when they go to the store," Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families states on its website. "It is feasible, however, for the nation's largest retailers to maintain and act on such a list." The nonprofit cites Kroger, which maintains a list of 101 artificial ingredients and preservatives that aren't allowed in its Simple Truth private-label food line, and Wal-Mart, which banned PBDEs (a class of toxic flame retardants linked to learning problems in children) from its furniture in 2011.

"We are simply looking to enlarge this activity to match the scale of the problem and we want to make it easy for retailers by giving them a starter list of chemicals that are cause for concern," the group adds. "We are looking for partners in improving public health and safety rather than a one-day news story."

In part, their move is driven by the government's failure to act on reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was enacted in 1976 and puts the burden of testing chemicals to ensure they're safe on the EPA. But the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces that a chemical might be dangerous. Since the law's passing, the agency has been able to ban just five out of 84,000 chemicals and has been able to require testing on only 200. The government also doesn't require proper labeling of chemicals, making it impossible for a consumer to know, for example, whether a couch's foam contains a chemical linked to cancer (it probably does), whether your canned soup is lined with a synthetic form of estrogen called bisphenol A (it probably is), or whether your body lotion contains a whole bevy of chemicals that break down into formaldehyde as they age.

In a well-timed coincidence, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on Wednesday also reintroduced his "Safe Chemicals Act" to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, something he's been trying to do since 2005. His bill would give the EPA the power to require safety information and to screen chemicals for safety before health problems surface.

Get Involved
You can send letters yourself to each of the retailers listed above at

Contact your U.S. senators and ask them to support Sen. Lautenberg's bill and to make sure it gets a vote this session.

Take steps to protect yourself at home. Though ridding your house of all 100-plus toxic chemicals [] named by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families would be impossible, you can start with these 12 Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home.

Published on: April 10, 2013
Updated on: April 11, 2013

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