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Ohio mothers & public health advocates call on Walgreens to phase out toxic chemicals in products

In the spirit of National Public Health Week, Ohio public health advocates and area parents gathered at a Walgreens store in Columbus to spotlight children’s products containing dangerous levels of toxic ingredients found on the shelves of Walgreens.

Advocates delivered more than 135,000 petitions to Walgreens signed by their customers from across the country, including 3,775 from Ohio, calling on the retailer to adopt a comprehensive policy to phase out toxic chemicals in store products, including children’s toys, cosmetics, and cleaning products.  Advocates have been calling on the retailer to tackle toxic chemicals in their products for nearly two years now, as part of the national Mind the Store campaign.

“As the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, Walgreens is in the business of health and wellness,” said Rosemary Chaudry with Alliance for Nurses for Healthy Environments, “They should ensure the products they sell don’t contain chemicals that may be harmful to children and pregnant women.  Walgreens has an opportunity to join other big retailers in transitioning to safer chemicals and products that are healthier for our families.”

Today advocates spotlighted children’s products including a plastic light-up duck, baby wheels toys and a three ring binder which tested positive for dangerous chemicals. HealthyStuff.org tested these Walgreens products and others in a 2014 study. The study identified chemicals of concern in a variety of products sold by Walgreens including holiday decorations, Halloween gear, plastics, household cleaners, school supplies, pet toys and other products. Many products were found to have one or more toxic chemicals.

These chemicals include PVC, phthalates, organotins and heavy metals that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity, and cancer.

The Mind the Store campaign first wrote to Walgreens in April 2013. After a year of no response in April 2014, a broad coalition of health and environmental organizations held a national day of action at a Walgreens stores in over 20 states, followed by a week of action in July 2014.

As a result of this action, in December 2014, Walgreens announced for the first time that

“We are in the process of developing a Chemical Sustainability Program, which we anticipate announcing in the spring of 2015.  We are leveraging the expertise that our colleagues at U.K. retailer Boots can provide as pioneers in retailing, manufacturing and chemical sustainability.”

“Toxic chemicals commonly found on retail store shelves have been linked to serious health problems that are on the rise, including cancer, learning and developmental disabilities and reproductive harm,” said Joan Spoerl, concerned mother and Mom’s Clean Air Force Volunteer. “We’re pleased Walgreens is finally beginning to develop a policy, and we want to make sure that it addresses the unique vulnerabilities facing infants, young children, and pregnant women.  We are hopeful Walgreens will do what’s right for our children and families.”

Ohio public health advocates are calling on Walgreens to develop a chemicals policy that is comprehensive and protects their customers, especially pregnant women and children from toxic chemicals in products. Advocates are asking for the following commitments:

  • Disclosure of toxic chemicals (including in fragrances) in private label and brand name products to Walgreens and customers, especially for cosmetics, cleaning products, and other products for infants, children and pregnant women;
  • Development of a comprehensive Restricted Substance List (RSL) for chemicals in private label and brand name products, especially for cosmetics, cleaning products, and other products for infants, children and pregnant women;
  • Encouraging suppliers to reduce, phase out and eliminate chemicals of high concern in private label and brand name products;
  • Avoiding “regrettable substitutes”, to ensure that suppliers don’t transition from one dangerous chemical to another; and
  • Publicly reporting on benchmarks and a timeframe for implementing the policy.

“Walgreens recently merged with Alliance Boots, a company that has developed a precautionary approach to chemicals in their supply chain,” said Melanie Houston, Director of Environmental Health for the Ohio Environmental Council. “We’re happy that Walgreens is taking a close look at what Boots has done to reduce dangerous chemicals in their products. If certain chemicals have been eliminated in their products in Europe, they should be here as well.  It’s only common sense.”

Since the Mind the Store campaign was launched, several major national retailers including Walmart and Target have announced significant new initiatives to disclose and limit the use of chemicals that are known hazards and appear on the Mind the Store’s “Hazardous 100+” list.

“Both Target and Walmart have identified over 1,000 priority chemicals of concern that they’re asking suppliers to address,” stated Melanie Houston. “If they can do it, Walgreens can too.”

“In the months to come, we will be paying close attention to the chemicals policy Walgreens develops and announces,” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.  “We are hopeful Walgreens will develop a policy that will promote greater disclosure of, avoidance and safer substitution of hazardous chemicals in the products they sell.”

The Ohio Environmental Council and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments are part of the national Mind the Store Campaign, coordinated by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. The Mind the Store Campaign challenges the top ten US retailers to get tough on toxic chemicals by developing corporate level policies and working with suppliers to reduce toxic chemicals in products on their store shelves.

For more information on the Mind the Store campaign and Walgreens, visit http://saferchemicals.org/retailers/walgreens/