Lax policies allow dollar stores to offer harmful products

© Amy Roe
Michele Roberts photo courtesy of Environmental Justice Health Alliance

Report shows most discount items contain hazardous chemicals

A new national study found over 80 percent of products sold in dollar stores contains at least one hazardous chemical “above levels of concern.” A Day Late and A Dollar Short by California-based Campaign for Healthier Solutions looked at the four largest dollar store chains — Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar and 99 Cents Only — which operate over 21,500 stores in this the U.S., have a total annual sales of over $36 billion, and whose customers typically are low-income and residents of color.

The group tested 164 products sold at these stores and found 81 percent of them had at least one hazardous chemical “above levels of concern,” 38 percent of the products tested contained the toxic plastic PVC, and 32 percent of vinyl products tested for phthalates contained levels above the Consumer Product Safety Commission limit for children’s products.

The products were purchased at outlets of the four aforementioned store outlets in California, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, Texas and West Virginia, and shipped to an independent research firm in Michigan. The findings in the report released earlier this month is a follow up to a 2012 report that found 39 percent of vinyl packaging sold at discount retailers contained levels of cadmium or lead that violate state laws.

“People don’t realize there is a high level of toxinjs that are in these products,” which included kids’ pencil cases, vinyl shower curtains and tablecloths, noted Michele Roberts of Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, a report contributor in a MSR recent interview. She added that such inexpensive items “are bad for our children and our elders” — two key customer groups that regularly shop at dollar stores, which are usually located in urban neighborhoods and small rural towns that often serve predominately communities of color or low-income communities “where they might be the only place to buy essential household items, including food.”

The report summarized that apparently there are no policies “requiring disclosure of chemicals or use of safer chemicals in their own ‘house’ brands.” The recommendations include that discount stores “immediately remove children’s products found to contain” harmful chemicals and lead from its shelves; local, state and federal agencies adopt public policies that require manufacturers and retailers to disclose hazardous chemicals in products, and families and communities “exercise individual purchasing power” by buying less toxic products when available and demand more safe products as well.

A Dollar Tree store is located “right across from us” on West Broadway, says Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) Field Director Mike Griffin. “Right up the block is another dollar store.

“I think this is another blatant attempt of people giving the wrong end of the stick to low-income people,” Griffin adds.

“You have dollar stores that are obviously located in low income communities” such as North Minneapolis, adds NOC Board Co-Chair Ryan Stopera. He decries such stores “that are putting these products out, knowing that they could be harmful to their customer base just because it makes them a few bucks.”

Roberts’ organization is a network of grassroots organizations throughout the U.S. — “not just community-based groups but [also] public health groups, science-based groups,” she points out. “We reached out to faith groups” as well.

All stores, especially dollar stores, should be “better neighbors and better stewards in the community they are located in,” states Roberts. She encourages the public to go to www.nontoxicdollarstores.org for more information. “We have a diverse array of people signing on” to form letters on the site that will be sent to dollar stores’ top executives, she points out.

“We are canvassing the neighborhood to not only spread awareness on this dollar store campaign but also give out information,” says Stopera, who adds NOC holds monthly meetings at its West Broadway offices on various topics, including environmental issues. “We held one last month about [an] air quality violation near the Lowry Avenue bridge” as well as the impact of living near dry cleaners businesses “that pose high risks of health effects and air quality,” he points out.

“Too many people are living in harm’s way,” concludes Roberts.

The entire report is available online at www.nontoxicdollarstores.org.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.