Who’s minding the store? When it comes to safety of consumer products in the United States marketplace, there’s been much public concern that really no one is. Thus coalition Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families created the Mind the Store Campaign to find solutions. We recently delved inside to learn more with Mind the Store Campaign Director Mike Schade. Here’s what he shared with FlourSackMama.com readers:
Q: You lead the Mind the Store campaign at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. How did the need arise for this campaign?
A: As parents and consumers, we’re appalled by all of the toxic chemicals finding their way into common products we buy and bring into our homes and schools, which our children and families come in contact with. Chemicals linked to asthma, cancer, and learning and developmental disabilities, and chemicals that are getting into our bodies that never should have been there in the first place. Even babies are born pre-polluted with dangerous chemicals, brought to us by big chemical companies such as Dow Chemical, DuPont and Exxon Mobil.
Thankfully we know safer and cost-effective alternatives are available. Many leading brands have been working to tackle these challenges by requiring suppliers to disclose chemical ingredients, phasing out the worst chemicals, and assessing alternatives. It’s only common sense.
One key reason for launching Mind the Store was to tackle the problems of toxic chemicals at a much bigger scale. Addressing one chemical at a time, while useful in highlighting problems and reducing certain exposures, wasn’t really addressing the scope of the problem we’re facing.
Since Congress has been unwilling and unable to pass meaningful reform of our woefully inadequate chemical safety system, we need to significantly amp up pressure in the marketplace. We can’t wait for Congress to act any longer. We need the nation’s top retailers to step in and enact sensible safeguards to protect our children’s health.
We launched the Mind the Store Campaign to challenge the nation’s top ten retailers to leverage their purchasing power and market share, to eliminate the worst of the worst chemicals from products on their store shelves. We call those the Hazardous 100+Chemicals of High Concern, chemicals that have been identified by credible authoritative government bodies to be problematic, such as the states of Washington, California and Maine. We know retailers have the purchasing power to eliminate dangerous substances such as these. They did that with BPA in baby bottles, and phthalates in toys, for example.
Q: People must be continually surprised at just how toxic some products are – that are legally allowed to be on store shelves today! Can you give us an example of perhaps the most outrageous sort of product you’ve seen lately that illustrates no one is minding the store?
A: Yes actually this week, we released a brand new study that shows that some products Walgreens sells contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and other serious health conditions. These chemicals can be found in common products sold at Walgreens, so we’re taking them back and returning them, urging Walgreens to eliminate harmful chemicals such as these in their products. Many other leading businesses such as Target and Walmart are taking steps to eliminate harmful chemicals in their supply chains, and Walgreens can too.
Here’s a few highlights:
• Laboratory testing identified high levels of phthalates in a number of products sold at Walgreens, including a 3-ring binder, vinyl shower curtain, iPod/iPhone charger, and handbag purse. Examples include:
o A vinyl shower curtain contained 18.2% of the phthalate DEHP.
o A vinyl 3-ring binder contained 14.3% of the phthalate DINP.
o Vinyl cleaning gloves contained 37.5% of the phthalate DINP.
o A blue handbag purse contained 4.5% of the phthalate DEHP.
o An iPod/iPhone/IPad charger contained 32.7% of the phthalate DINP.
• About 30% (13 of 44) of the products tested contained high chlorine levels, suggesting they are made of the toxic plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). Vinyl is one of the most toxic plastics on the market.
• A pet tennis ball contained elevated levels of lead. Pets chewing this ball could potentially be exposed to lead as a result.
• About 27% of the products tested contained antimony based flame retardants. This is a concern because studies have shown flame retardants are not bound to products, and can leach out of the plastic or material.
You can see photos of the products at www.HealthyStuff.org.
Q: Has there been much progress with Mind the Store in 2014?
A: Yes there are many reasons to be hopeful! Over the past year, since we launched the campaign, both Target and Walmart have adopted significant new chemicals policies encouraging suppliers to disclose and restrict chemicals of high concern in products on their store shelves. That is huge. While their policies don’t go far enough, they’re a good start, and think they will only further accelerate the market transition away from poisonous chemicals. We plan to leverage these policies in the year to come with the other top ten retailers, especially those such as Walgreens that are lagging behind. If Target and Walmart can do it, so can others as well!
You can read about the companies we’re focusing on in our campaign at http://mindthestore.saferchemicals.org/retailers.
Q: As for Walmart coming on board in response to your Mind the Store campaign with some better standards of its own, I blogged a bit about a mixed reaction. Is WalMart really poised to be our leading green retailer? Or Target, for that matter? How do we know these stores aren’t just greenwashing?
A: So far, Target and Walmart are leading the pack among the top ten US retailers, when it comes to addressing chemicals of high concern in their supply chains. I know it’s hard to believe. Here’s some background and details on Target’s and Walmart’s policies:
Both retailers have pledged to publicly report on their progress in implementing their policies, so that’s one way we can make sure they’re not just greenwashing. And if they are greenwashing, you can be sure we’ll be there to hold them accountable if needed!
Q: What’s happening at Walgreens and what do you hope will happen there with product standards?
A: Walgreens is the largest drugstore chain in the country, and despite being a company dedicated to health and wellness, unfortunately it continues to sell products containing chemicals linked to cancer, asthma and other serious health problems. Walgreens has a moral responsibility to sell products that are safe.
While Walgreens has taken some steps to address certain environmental and public health risks, such as launching their “Ology” brand, unfortunately it has yet to adopt a comprehensive chemical policy as other retailers have done.
One year ago we and other groups in the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition wrote to Walgreens encouraging the retailer to develop a comprehensive plan of action to work with their suppliers to eliminate the most toxic chemicals in their products. Over 60,000 concerned Walgreens customers have also sent the company letters urging it to address this important issue. To date the company has not responded to our multiple letters or requests to meet. So we’re here today one year later to take our message to their stores and customers across the country.
This week, concerned parents and health professionals descended on nearly 50 Walgreens stores nationwide. The event was part of a national “Mind the Store” day of action to raise awareness of toxic chemicals in consumer products. Parents held news conferences and returned the products containing toxic chemicals (which HealthyStuff.org tested), and delivered postcards to store managers. We also launched a new national petition (see below).
We’re asking Walgreens to be a leader in promoting healthy living by moving the market away from dangerous chemicals.
You can learn more at http://mindthestore.saferchemicals.org/walgreens.html.
Q: What can individuals do today if they’re concerned about toxic chemicals in products at their local stores?
A: There are a few different ways that folks can get involved:
1) Sign our new petition to Walgreens! Since last year, over 60,000 people have written to Walgreens, but it’s clearly not enough, so we’re stepping up the pressure. You can sign the new national petition here: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/6639/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=17188
2) You can participate in the in-store actions too! Simply print out this sample letter, sign and deliver it to your store manager today or sometime this week. Let them know why this issue matters to you!
3) On Twitter? Ask @Walgreens to #MindtheStore and move us towards @SaferChemicals.
4) Plan a Retailer Rendezvous with your friends—it’s easy and has a big impact. Download the Retailer Rendezvous Toolkit here.