Discount stores

Opinion: Discount stores often sell products containing dangerous chemicals. Low income buyers deserve better.

well done is the national coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions. He lives in El Cajon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on racial health disparities in the United States, which have sadly worsened over the past 20 years. One reason is that people of color have higher rates of chronic illnesses and illnesses related to pollution and exposure to chemicals, such as asthma and cancer.

Communities of color and residents of low-income neighborhoods are disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals where they live, through their work and also because of where they shop. Six years ago, our coalition of over 100 health, community and environmental justice organizations tested over 150 products sold at discount stores and found that 81% contained at least one dangerous chemical linked to birth defects. , learning disabilities, diabetes and more. We have since urged these powerful entities to clean up their deeds.

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Last week, we co-released a new annual report that ranks retailers – including the three largest discount retailers, commonly referred to as “dollar stores” – on product and packaging chemical safety. Together, 99 Cents Only Stores, Dollar Tree / Family Dollar, and Dollar General operate over 32,000 stores in the United States, with total annual sales of over $ 55 billion, and have a major impact on health and wellness. -being of our communities.

Despite years of our campaign and others urging 99 Cents Only Stores, headquartered in Los Angeles, to phase out the most toxic chemicals from products and packaging, they were awarded an “F” for the third year. consecutively for not taking any action to resolve this issue. critical problem. This despite our knowledge that we have found lead, with well-known links to serious health risks, in children’s jewelry sold at discount stores. We’ve also found phthalates – which are added to plastic to increase flexibility and have known links to reproductive issues – in toys, cosmetics, shower curtains, and other products. Yet in many neighborhoods there is no other place to shop than these discount retailers.

Leaving aside cosmetics, household cleaning items and children’s toys, discount retailers are also undermining supermarkets and perpetuating intentionally food-deprived areas, sometimes referred to as ‘food deserts’, so that it there is hardly any fresh food available locally. As a result, 40 percent of these stores’ sales go to food, most of which is highly processed with low nutritional quality and whose packaging is another potential source of toxic chemicals.

With so many people out of work during the pandemic and everyone staying close to home due to public health guidelines, discount stores saw record sales in 2020. Dollar General reported 14% growth in store sales comparable for the last quarter of last year. – all to say, people are more dependent on these stores than ever before.

Although 99 Cents Only Stores was one of the main laggards in the new report, we are pleased that Dollar Tree / Family Dollar and Dollar General have improved somewhat.

Dollar Tree / Family Dollar was actually one of the most improved companies, going from a D + in the last report to a C + last week, mainly because the retailer released both a chemical policy and a pledge. eliminate priority chemicals. The retailer has identified 17 priority chemicals or classes of chemicals – including lead, BPA and asbestos in children’s products – that it expects its suppliers to reduce or eliminate from its branded products private by 2020. The company claims to have successfully achieved this goal, but it has not provided any evidence.

Dollar General also released a new Safer Chemicals Policy in its Serving Others 2020 report, which included a commitment to eliminate eight chemicals from its private label household cleaning and beauty and personal care products. by December 2022. No discount retailer has yet adopted a truly comprehensive chemical disclosure or stewardship policy with public benchmarks, so it’s impossible to tell if they deliver on their promises.

Rearranging the way products are produced and distributed to phase out harmful chemicals is no easy task. But if discount retailers care about the health and well-being of the communities in which they operate, or the environmental racism they perpetuate, they should reallocate resources and start cleaning up their supply chains immediately.

It is also good business sense.

By failing to tackle toxic chemicals through comprehensive policies, dollar stores are making themselves vulnerable to the plight of companies like Mattel, which lost 18% of its value after recalling toys with paint in it. lead, or Sigg USA, which went bankrupt after failing to disclose BPA. in his water bottles.

Unfortunately, retailers can legally get away with a lot. Federal policy and the lack of oversight leave many harmful chemicals unregulated or under-regulated, leaving affected residents to lobby businesses to put the health of customers and employees first.

There is a growing movement by major retail and manufacturing brands – including Target and Walmart – to meet consumer demand for safer products with publicly available company policies that identify, disclose and replace the more harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. We cannot allow businesses serving communities of color and low income neighborhoods to fall behind.

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