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Group finds many consumer products still contain toxic chemicals

Knowing which products pose a risk can help consumers avoid health problems

Photo (c) gilaxia - Getty Images
In a report on toxic chemicals contained in consumer products, a consumer group finds two thirds of retail companies it reviewed remain "serious laggards" in efforts to eliminate these products.

The consumer group Safer Chemicals, Healthier Families reviewed 30 national retailers selling everything from toys to office products to groceries.

Mike Schade, director of the research campaign, says the chemicals found in everyday consumer products included:

  • Flame retardants in electronics and car seats

  • Phthalates in vinyl plastic building materials and food

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) in food can linings and thermal receipt paper

  • Perfluorinated chemicals in microwavable popcorn and clothing

In nearly every room of the home

A recent report by the Cleveland Clinic broke down potentially dangerous chemicals in products by the location in a home where they are typically found. In the living room, the report said you are likely to find Perchloroethylene and Naphthalene in carpet and upholstery cleaners.

In the kitchen, the report says you may find lye in oven cleaners and a list of hazardous chemicals in antibacterial products.

"We are exposed to these chemicals through the air we breathe, the food we eat, and they as a result make their way into our bodies," Schade told ConsumerAffairs. "Even babies are born pre-polluted with dangerous chemicals."

Schade says retailers like Target, Walmart, and CVS Health are making good progress in removing toxic chemicals from their stores. The study found seven out of 11 retailers have made "significant improvement" in that area in the last two years.

On the other hand, nine out of 11 retailers still received failing grades.

"These retailers are failing to meet the rising consumer demand for safe and healthier products," Schade said. "Retailers that are not properly managing chemicals in their supply chains face growing financial, legal, and reputational risks."

Potential health problems

It's an issue that should concern consumers. Schade cites what he calls "a growing body of science" that has linked exposure to toxic chemicals to health problems and diseases such as cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, and reproductive disorders.

"Although these chemicals come from multiple sources, many are present in the products we buy," Schade said.

The problem for consumers is knowing what chemicals are in which products. Food products will have a list of ingredients on the label, but a piece of electronics equipment does not.

Schade says that means retailers need robust policies to carefully screen the products they carry to weed out products that could pose a health threat. He says federal regulators also have a role to play.

"Unfortunately, the Trump EPA is failing to meaningfully implement our nation's newly reformed chemical safety law, signed into law last year," Schade said. "That's why we've taken the EPA to court, challenging them to follow the letter of the law as Congress intended."

Schade says consumers can protect themselves by reading his group's retailer ratings and favoring those that have done the best job of removing products with toxic chemicals from their shelves.

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