If you suspect there is a toxic dark side to getting your home essentials for cheap, you might be right. In early February, the Louisville, Kentucky Business Insider published an expose on Family Dollar, 99 Cents Only, Dollar Tree, and Dollar General stores that states that products sold at both stores had, “up to 81-percent toxic” products out of 100. Sadly, this is not the first time that these dollar stores have been sued, cited, or fined for having toxic substances in their products.
The latest research on the toxic levels of merchandise sold at Family Dollar and Dollar general was spear-headed by The Campaign for Healthier Solutions. The organization tested stores to complete their study and found 133 of those 164 randomly selected products contained toxic substances.
Unfortunately, toxic substances sold at retail stores are nothing new, and regulating retailers is done by third-party watchdog groups like the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse that do testing and create studies. Before the 2015 study was published about the dollar stores having toxic products for sale, this group of dollar stores became a focus by the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance in 2014.
When an $8.5 billion merger took place between Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, a representative from the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance, Michele Roberts, told The National Work Group for Safe Markets the following.
“These stores – which are estimated to reap $18 billion each year – sell products to mostly people of color and low income communities. The consumers who shop at Dollar Tree are already disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals, and the local producers who sell products in these communities are undercut by the low-cost of these toxic products. This new giant retail entity has an especially important responsibility to their customers and the communities where they are located to make sure the products are safe from harmful toxics and to not add more harm to the legacy of toxic chemical exposures that already exists.”
During new testing for the 2015 report, The Campaign for Healthier Solutions stated that a large number of common household items sold at Dollar General and Family Dollar are toxic. WFPL-FM radio in Louisville states from the 2015 report that there are, “high levels of chemicals like polyvinyl chloride, phthalates, lead and tin in 81 percent of them.”
But are these chemicals truly toxic and horrifying? ToxNet from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chemical Toxicity Databases confirm that many of the chemicals found in dollar store products are very damaging to a person’s health — especially with long-term exposure. For instance, phthalates are known for being linked to endocrine disruptors that can cause cancer, asthma, and reproductive problems for adults and fetuses. Bromine causes cancer and lead can cause kidney damage or brain damage due to heavy metal poisoning in children or adults.
What products at Dollar Tree, Family Dollar or Dollar General are the most toxic? Some tested items that were included in the February 2015 report by The Campaign for Healthier Solutions are toys, office supplies, and home decorations. One particularly shocking example of toxicity highlighted by WFPL-FM is stated as follows.
“In Louisville, the nonprofit tested products from Family Dollar and Dollar Tree. One of the products, the Polly Fashion Doll, was found to have 392,474 parts per million of chlorine (which indicates the use of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC), four parts per million of lead and 30 parts per million of tin. The doll sells for $1.90.”
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions that tested the items do not state in their report that Dollar General and Family Dollar are in violation of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Instead, The Campaign for Healthier Solutions says “these products fall into gaps in the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.”
Despite this, the Business Insider states that Dollar General and Family Dollar say they are following the rules — and, technically, they could be within their legal rights. WFPL-FM explains the wording The Campaign for Healthier Solutions used and says, “Children’s products are regulated for certain chemicals, but the report found that several other products weren’t necessarily made for children, but could still expose them to large amounts of toxins. Some could become exposed by licking or chewing the product, while others could be exposed as the products release toxic gases or dust.”
In other words, if your stapler is toxic and your child licks it, no one can be blamed — especially not the parents since they had no warning labels on the stapler that it contained hazardous substances. In some cases, this kind of scenario is not deliberate by the retailers, but that assumption could be questioned. In particular, The Campaign for Healthier Solutions states that “99 Cents Only will pay over $2 million in 2015 for improper storage and disposal of hazardous products, and was fined $409,490 in 2010 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for selling unregistered and mislabeled pesticides in household cleaning products. In the latter case, EPA’s Administrative Law Judge declared that the company’s management has a culture of indifference.”
In the meantime, we can assume that the toxic dollar stores in question are working in small ways on the problems that make them appear untrustworthy. For example, The National Work Group for Safe Markets quoted Dollar General’s 2013 Sustainability Report that says they are, “working on ways to reduce or eliminate the use of PVC in products and packaging.”
If you are looking for a safe place to shop that is actively trying to reduce toxic substances found in common household items, try Wal-mart or Target. According to The Campaign for Healthier Solutions, those two big box retailers still have toxic substances in their products, but are actively taking a stand to address their presence in the future. The WFPL-FM article also provided a link to Wal-Mart’s “Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables” and Target also has a policy called “The Sustainable Product Standard.”
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]