Consumer products that contain hazardous chemicals can cause significant personal injuries including respiratory problems, neurological damage, and cancer. For these reasons, Costco and Walmart, and other retailers are developing new standards that would remove products containing potentially hazardous chemicals from their inventory. These efforts could go a long way towards protecting consumers from the serious and potentially life-threatening consequences that can arise from using everything from shampoos to snacks. However, these programs are currently voluntary and while Walmart and Costco are attempting to exert corporate pressure to remove these chemicals, neither company currently prohibits the sale or distribution of products that contain the chemicals their independent testing has identified as having potentially negative health consequences.
Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Guide
Developed in conjunction with The Environmental Defense Fund, Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Guide requires suppliers to provide full transparency regarding the ingredients they use and the chemicals the finished products contain. Currently, 96.1%% of products within Walmart stores and 97% of products sold within Sam’s Club comply with these requirements. Over the coming year, the company will require the remaining suppliers to bring their product lines into compliance. The move is part of efforts aimed towards moving producers towards sustainable production practices that will limit consumer exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. While hazardous chemicals can be found in everything from foods to packaging, the greatest risks are posed by beauty and personal care products. According to Walmart, by weight, their efforts have removed up to 95% of the toxic chemicals from these products.
Costco Follows Suit
Following Walmart, Costco is updating their Restricted Chemical List. Like Walmart, the company is using independent laboratories to test and screen potentially hazardous chemicals contained in the products they carry. The list currently has over 300 chemicals contained within everything from food products and furniture to bedding and cosmetics. If testing determines that there are potentially negative health effects from the chemicals contained within these products, the company provides a list of recommended replacement chemicals that manufacturers and producers can use.
Potentially Hazardous Chemicals
There are many potentially hazardous chemicals whose presence is often overlooked by consumers and that Walmart and Costco are seeking to remove from their product inventories. These include preservatives like propylparaben which is used in food, drug, and cosmetic products. Exposure to the chemical can cause rashes and negatively affect the circulatory system. Nonylphenols are another common chemical often used in laundry detergents. These can be inhaled or ingested where they are rapidly absorbed into the body where they can irritate the lungs and digestive system as well as potentially causing significant harm to the reproductive tract.
Walmart and Costco are also working to remove triclosan from the products they sell. Triclosan are antimicrobials that are used within hand sanitizers that are known to cause significant harm to the endocrine system. The chemical which is currently under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration impairs thyroid hormone signaling and can weaken an individual’s immune system. Research shows that the chemical may increase an individual’s risk of developing allergies and asthma and may cause reproductive harm.
Plasticizers are also under scrutiny. Dibutyl phthalate and diethyl phthalate are used to give plastic flexibility. They are commonly used in bottles, food packaging, and cosmetics. Contrary to popular myth, these chemicals are not currently classified as carcinogenic. However, they do cause significant injury to the skin and respiratory system.
Perhaps the most well-known chemical on the list is Formaldehyde. Used in everything from glues to nail polish, there are well-established links between the chemical and the development of leukemia, throat cancer, and nose cancer. The harm formaldehyde can cause is similar to other solvents including Toluene which is used in paints, nail polishes, and glues. Exposure to Toluene can cause neurological damage, liver damage, and kidney damage. In high concentrations, the chemical can cause respiratory failure and death.
Consumers are Making Safer Choices
The actions of Walmart and Costco are part of broader efforts led by the Environmental Protection Agency and their “Safer Choices” program. The program is a response to changing consumer sentiments and greater awareness of the potential hazards chemicals contained within consumer products can cause. Ultimately, Walmart and Costco are seeking to line their shelves with products that carry the EPA’s Safer Choices label. It is assumed that as public awareness of the program grows, the appeal of these products will increase in popularity among consumers and have a positive effect on their health and welfare. Reduced use of hazardous chemicals within a wide range of consumer products could significantly reduce the incidence rates of personal injuries and everything from asthma to cancer.