Who’s Minding the Store?

Back-to-School Shopping for Toxic Free Products

By: Vikki Crouse | July 2021

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As summer break comes to an end for many kids in North Carolina, parents and caregivers are heading to the store for back-to-school shopping. It can be nerve-wracking to try to figure out which products are free from hazardous chemicals that might pose risks to kids’ health or development. These chemicals are hiding in everyday products, from cleaning products and food packaging to baby toys and electronics. They include PFAS “forever chemicals,” phthalates, and toxic flame retardants among others.

A recent report from Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign, Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals, reveals that many of North America’s largest retail companies, including Lowe’s and Ahold Delhaize, parent company of Food Lion, are embracing chemical safety policies to help protect consumers from exposure to toxic chemicals in products. Additionally, 12 major retailers with more than 65,000 stores worldwide have now pledged to eliminate or reduce toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” in food packaging.

Children and Pregnant Women are of Greatest Concern

Kids, babies and pregnant women are exposed every day to contaminants that can affect growth, learning, and behavior. Chemicals that can thwart healthy development don’t belong in children’s toys, clothes, or food packaging. The scientific evidence continues to grow for health hazards from exposure to chemicals such as phthalates, PFAS, and flame retardants, particularly during critical life stages like childhood and pregnancy. Making sure household products are toxic-free is the first step to reducing chemical exposures for kids and parents.

The report results show significant improvement over time. Nearly 70% of companies surveyed have improved their grade compared to their first evaluation in the retailer report card. Additionally, for the first time, two retailers are committing to evaluating beauty products marketed to women of color for toxic chemicals found in those types of products, helping to begin to address long-standing racial disparities in exposure to toxic beauty product-related chemicals. This follows the addition of new criteria in the report that challenges retailers to address this racial justice issue. Whole Foods Market has already banned some of these chemicals of concern (such as hydroquinone) in these products as well.

North Carolina is Home to Leading Retailers

In 2019, major retail grocers and restaurants began focusing more attention on eliminating classes of toxic chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), ortho-phthalates and bisphenols from food packaging materials, which have been found to be a source of exposure to harmful contaminants. These actions respond to growing consumer concern about food safety and toxic chemicals.

North Carolina-based home improvement retailer Lowe’s is listed as one of the most improved retailers on this issue — primarily because of the chain’s strong action curbing exposure to a toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS. PFAS has been linked to cancer and other health concerns. In an update to their safety chemicals policy earlier this year, Lowe’s announced that they have also banned the sale of fabric protectors that contain toxic PFAS chemicals in its stores.

Ahold Delhaize owns NC-based grocery store chain Food Lion. In 2019, they announced their chemical commitment to restrict toxic chemicals, including PFAS, BPA, ortho-pthalates and other chemicals in its own banded products. Product categories include: baby food, infant formula, as well as formulated laundry, home, personal care, cosmetic and baby products.

They have not publicly reported other progress in implementing the policy. In North Carolina, the focus has been on PFAS water contamination, but the PFAS family of chemicals is pervasive across many products.

While we continue to wait for strong action from state and federal decision makers on PFAS, it’s heartening to see markets pay attention and step up to protect North Carolina families.

Take Action!

Check out the full retailer report card while you’re shopping. Visit www.retailerreportcard.org.