On April 16, 2014, local Ann Arbor advocates joined the HealthyStuff.org team in a nation-wide day of action calling on Walgreens to Mind the Store and remove toxic products from their shelves. Our HealthyStuff.org lab tested pet products, children’s products, and other home goods from the local Walgreens store and found several products contained chemicals linked to known health hazards. Several of the vinyl based products we tested contained phthalates that are banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in children’s products. Results of our study were used for the Mind the Store Walgreens Day of Action, where nearly 50 cities participated in the event by purchasing the products we tested and returning them back to Walgreens.
The HealthyStuff.org team returned several of these toxic products to the local Ann Arbor Walgreens, located two blocks away from the Ecology Center and across the street from the University of Michigan (U of M). The chilly weather couldn't keep our local advocates from participating in this important event.
Our local Walgreens caters to university students and visitors – with a large section of the store dedicated to U of M fan gear. For March Madness, we tested fan gear from this Walgreens and other retailers and found more than 70% of the products we tested contained one or more toxic chemicals, including arsenic, lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury and cadmium. We tested products from 19 universities for this "March Badness" study, awarding one of the products - a lunch bag from the University of Florida, the Most Toxic Product award.
I’ve been working for our HealthyStuff.org project for nearly three years and continuously find toxic chemicals in everyday stuff - from mobile phones to shower curtains. But how do you - as a consumer – know about the toxic chemicals found in everyday stuff when they don't have a chemical disclosure label on them? The manager of our local Walgreens had no clue of what we were talking about when we returned the products we tested – her facial expression said it all - “toxic chemicals in what?!”
That’s why we test consumer products and put this information on our HealthyStuff.org website. We want to disclose this information to empower consumers and to ultimately, change the way our stuff is produced.
During our Walgreens day of action, a U of M student asked, “Why target Walgreens and not the manufacturers of these products?”
“Why not focus on the manufacturers and the rest of the supply chain?”
Well, our strategy is at the heart of the Mind the Store national campaign: get the ten largest retailers to implement storewide policies focused on the reduction and elimination of toxic chemicals in the products they sell. Retailers have the power to change the way manufacturers produce “stuff” by requiring that they meet their company’s chemical standards. There are more than 100 chemicals of high concern in our everyday products and our national chemical policy, the Toxic Substances Control Act fails to protect us.
So what can we do to fix our broken national chemical policy?
- Let Congress know it’s time to get tough on toxic chemicals, starting with comprehensive policies that protect public health.
- Urge Walgreens to remove products that contain toxic chemicals from their shelves and to create internal chemical policies that regulate the sale of products that contain toxic chemicals.
- Get informed and switch to safer products. Learn how to read the ingredient lists on products (for cosmetics in particular). Try to entirely avoid products made of PVC – which tend to have phthalates. Seek out products labeled as “PVC-free.” Check out the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics, which lists ingredients you should avoid when purchasing and using cosmetics.
Finally, check out our website, www.HealthyStuff.org for products that we have tested. Earlier this year, we released a new section on our website called the HealthyStuff.org Retailer Center where you can search for tested products by retailer. While we cannot test every product in every store, we try to purchase and test products that are currently on the market. And, if you haven’t already, sign up for our listserv to stay current on our latest study!