Dollar Stores Found Selling Toys, Earrings, and More Containing Lead and Other Toxins
by Amanda Starbuck, 2/5/2015
Target and Walmart made headlines in 2013 when both companies pledged to phase-out certain hazardous chemicals from their supply chains, good news for the millions of Americans who rely on these stores for household and personal care products. But discount retailers known as "dollar stores" have yet to follow suit, putting the communities they serve at risk of toxic chemical exposures.
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions launched an effort today pressuring dollar store chains to remove hazardous chemicals from their supply chains. The campaign is a collaborative project of more than 100 health and environmental organizations, including Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. (Disclosure: The Center for Effective Government is a member of the Coming Clean Collaborative.)
Why Dollar Stores?
Dollar stores offer household items at discounted prices and target families in lower-income communities. In fact, 40 percent of dollar store customers rely on some type of government assistance. Communities of color make up a sizable portion of the companies' clientele.
Low-income and minority communities already face disproportionate risks from toxic exposures and chemical accidents. Minority children have higher rates of asthma and other diseases linked to chemical exposures, as well as higher rates of lead poisoning, relative to white children and those from higher-income families. Being exposed to toxic materials in dollar store products only exacerbates the chemical exposure risks minority families – especially children – face.
Toxins for Sale
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions tested 164 products purchased at the four largest dollar store chains (Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and 99 Cents Only) for the presence of specific hazardous chemicals.
Eighty-one percent (133 of 164) tested positive for hazardous chemicals above the level of concern set by mandatory and/or voluntary health standards. This included toys and beauty products made with chromium and antimony – toxic heavy metals that can cause serious health problems like lung irritation and heart damage.
A vinyl tablecloth for sale at Dollar Tree contained lead levels ten times the limit for children’s products, and an earring set from Family Dollar contained 65 times the limit. While these don’t fit into the narrow definition of children’s products, children are likely to come into contact with them. Even low levels of lead exposure can cause irreversible developmental and behavioral effects in children.
More findings are available in the full report.
Cleaning Up the Supply Chain
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions sent letters to the CEOs of these four dollar store chains challenging them to remove hazardous products from their shelves and offering advice on how to replace them with safer products. The campaign’s report and materials also outline practical steps that companies can take to disclose chemicals in their products and find safer alternatives.
Large retail chains like dollar stores and Target can have a significant impact on reducing the toxic products that circulate in our economy, but government should be the real line of defense in preventing harmful chemicals from being used in the first place.
Unfortunately, we have a broken chemical regulatory system in the United States. With over 84,000 chemicals registered for use in the U.S., fewer than 300 have been federally tested for safety, and only nine have been banned or restricted. Attempts to restrict known toxins are met with intense industry opposition, such as when the U.S. asbestos ban was challenged and overturned in 1991.
This spring, lawmakers are expected to revisit the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the main law that gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate chemicals in commerce. An improved TSCA is critical for better protecting the public from hazardous products. Unfortunately, revisions to the law under the current anti-regulatory Congress are likely to weaken federal public health protections and could roll back state protections as well.
Image by flickr user PINKÉ, used under Creative Commons license.