This week, concerned parents and health advocates from around the U.S. are turning out at Walgreens stores and going online as part of a national Mind the Store “Week of Action” to ask the large pharmacy chain to take strong steps toward selling safer products. 

This follows our April 16th day of action where concerned parents and advocates across the country held events at over 60 Walgreens stores nationwide.

Walgreens is the largest pharmacy chain in the country, and despite being a company dedicated to health and wellness, it continues to sell products containing chemicals linked to cancer, asthma and other serious health problems.  Walgreens has a moral responsibility to sell products that are safe for all.

A Broken System

Walgreens didn’t create the problem, but with the chemical industry subverting reform in Congress that would allow for the testing of chemicals for safety, we’re asking Walgreens and other major retailers to leverage their market power to encourage safer products.

It’s doable. Recently, other major chains like Walmart and Target have announced comprehensive plans to disclose, reduce and/or restrict known unsafe chemicals from products. And Walgreens UK affiliate, Alliance Boots, has made great strides toward selling safer products to its customers.  If they can do it, so can Walgreens!

Walgreens Acknowledges Problem

Over the past year, our Mind the Store Campaign has gathered over 150,000 signatures asking the chain to take precautionary action on the Hazardous 100+ chemicals in its products. Walgreens’ response has been complete silence for over a year, until we announced the “Week of Action” last Tuesday. Perhaps it was coincidence, but Walgreens finally acknowledged the challenge in a letter to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families just last week. The letter said for the first time they are taking a look at and studying the Boots sustainable chemical policy and whether it could benefit American customers, which is a step in the right direction.  Though not enough, we are hoping it will lead to the development and adoption of a meaningful and comprehensive chemical policy.

In its letter, Walgreens addressed a study by HealthyStuff.org we released during the April “Day of Action” showing that some products Walgreens sells, such as hand bags, school supplies, pet chew toys, and shower curtains, contain harmful chemicals like phthalates, PVC plastic, lead and toxic flame retardants.

While Walgreens has taken some positive steps to address certain environmental and public health risks, for example by launching their “Ology™” brand, unfortunately it has yet to adopt a comprehensive chemical policy. Our view is all products on Walgreens shelves should be safe, not just some of them.

Harmonizing Upward

In contrast to American based stores, Walgreens is in the midst of completing a merger with UK pharmacy chain Alliance Boots. Boots has a sustainable chemicals policy that is considered a model in retailing, and as a result, its customers benefit from safer products. Walgreens has acknowledged it is studying the Boots model for product sustainability, but has made no commitment to apply it to the benefit of U.S. customers. So as the merger goes through, will Boots encounter corporate pressure to abandon its health commitments, or will Walgreens harmonize the competing policies in favor of safer chemicals for customer health? And if so, when?  We’ve been calling on Walgreens to be a leader, not a laggard, for over one year now.

“Walgreens customers in the U.S. deserve the same safe products the company sells to its British customers,” says Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “Retailers like Walgreens have the responsibility to sell products that don’t contain harmful chemicals.”

Take Action!

Can you back us up by signing and sharing our new petition to Walgreens?  Tell Walgreens – we need leadership on toxic chemicals!

Follow our Week of Action on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Share the news with your friends and networks. Together, we can gather thousands more signatures to Walgreens.

Leave a message on Walgreen’s Facebook page saying you want safer products.

Selfie time! Take a picture of yourself at a local Walgreens and share it with @Walgreens on Instagram.

Send @Walgreens a tweet telling them it’s time for them to sell safer products and #MindtheStore!

More Resources

Check out our news release on the “Week of Action” here.

Come on back to our site over the course of the week for cool updates, pictures and more!

Watch this video from our April day of action and read a summary here.

Finally, here’s the Mind the Store profile of Walgreens.

You make your shopping list. Maybe you’re expecting a new baby, so you’ll need a carseat for sure. Kids grow fast and you need clothes and footwear. And rather than serve meals on boring grown-up plates, what could me more fun than tableware made just for kids with their favorite characters on them? And every child should have a lovey – a soft toy they can sleep with and carry everywhere. Oh – and don’t forget all of the toy cars and dolls kids can’t seem to do without.

That’s quite a haul to bring home, but that’s not all you’re bringing home and giving to your kids. When you buy all of the products manufactured just for children, you’re likely also bringing home a number of harmful chemicals – chemicals that can cause cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental problems.

Makers of children’s products have reported widespread use of harmful chemicals under the landmark Washington state 2008 Children’s Safe Products Act (CSPA). Washington Toxics Coalition’s (WTC) report “What’s on Your List? Toxic Chemicals in Your Shopping Cart,” reveals the prevalence of chemicals that can cause cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental problems in products readily available for purchase at many of the country’s largest retailers.

Overall there were 4,605 reports of Chemicals of High Concern to Children reported in children’s products such as toys, clothing, baby safety products, and bedding during this time period. A total of 78 companies such as Walmart, Target, Safeway, Walgreens, Nike, and Toys “R” Us reported products containing harmful chemicals. A total of 49 chemicals such as formaldehyde, bisphenol A (BPA), parabens, phthalates, heavy metals, and industrial solvents were reported.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. Is that what we want for our children? The Children’s Safe Products Act (CSPA) is the first of its kind in the United States and has been lauded for shedding light on the use of harmful chemicals in children’s products. One of the most disturbing reports was formaldehyde in children’s tableware. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. Is that what we want for our children? Manufacturers reported using ethylbenzene, toluene and phthalates, in addition to formaldehyde in children’s tableware.

Washington state passed the CSPA because over the years it has become apparent that the federal system overseeing chemicals is badly broken. While Congress remains mired in partisan political fighting, states like Washington, California and Maine (among others) have taken control of their chemical fates by passing policies that make public health a priority by banning certain toxic chemicals and holding the chemical industry accountable for chemicals used in consumer products.

But while we push for the federal government to do something meaningful to fix our broken regulatory system, and states continue to pass their own bans and regulations, consumers have an important role to play in changing the chemical landscape in consumer products: 

Action Center

  1. Email retailers and ask them to get tough on toxic chemicals. (We’ve got over 50,000 emails to the retailers, help us reach 100,000!)
  2. Plan a Retailer Rendezvous with your friends—it’s easy and has a big impact. Download the Retailer Rendezvous Toolkit here.
  3. Watch and share the short video about our Mind the Store campaign.
 

Getting ready to create a special space for your little ones to play? The Everyday SUPERHERO can tell you which paints, flooring, and furniture will ensure hours of happy and healthy playtime! 

As you’ve probably seen in many of our recent posts, toxic Tris flame retardants are bad news. Exposure to Tris has been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and nervous system harm. By being mindful with certain purchases, you can try to limit your family’s exposure to these dangerous chemicals and reduce your toxic body burden.

Toxic flame retardants can be carried into the home on/in a number of baby products, fabrics, furniture and carpet materials. Upon entering the home, tris chemicals are slowly dispelled into the air and accumulate in household dust, which is then inhaled or ingested, especially by sticky-fingered children and babies. 

So – what can you do to reduce your family’s exposure to toxic flame retardants? 

  • When shopping for furniture, look for companies who avoid chemical flame retardants and instead use naturally fire-resistant materials
  • Avoid all products containing polyurethane foam with a label reading TB117, which means it has likely been treated with toxic flame retardants
  • Choose a safer mattress, ideally made without polyurethane foam. Wool is the best option; cotton and latex are runners up. 
  • Buy nursing pillows, car seats, and baby carriers made without Tris – better brands for baby items include Baby Bjorn, Orbit Baby, and Boppy
  • Regularly use a wet mop to clean and remove dust particles and to keep them from being inhaled or ingested 
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean your home
  • Wash hands, especially those of little children, often, to keep dust from attaching to food or fingers and being consumed
  • Support the Toxic-Free Kids Act, which will protect kids by banning two Tris flame retardants, TCEP and TDCPP, from children’s products 

By being mindful with certain purchases, you can try to limit your family’s exposure to these dangerous chemicals and improve your toxic body burden. However, even the most conscientious consumer can’t avoid every toxic chemical—which is why we need the Toxic-Free Kids Act! It will help get us off this toxic treadmill by requiring companies to find safer alternatives for the most worrisome chemicals currently in use in kids’ products. Click here to send a letter to your legislator!

Image courtesy of flickr user ryancboren

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment in a series of posts looking into some of the the chemical pollutants that have contaminated Puget Sound’s fish and wildlife and pose one of the greatest threats to their survival. This is part one of a two-part series that examines polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are still polluting people and the environment despite being banned over 30 years ago.

This post was written by Dr. Fran Solomon, an environmental biologist who teaches courses and gives seminars for university students, environmental and health care professionals, and the general public about toxic chemicals and how they affect human health and the aquatic environment.

When I served as an environmental scientist for the Washington Department of Ecology in the 1990s, one of my responsibilities was to inspect businesses and industries on the shores of Puget Sound for compliance with environmental regulations. Before embarking on this part of my job, I was required to undergo a thorough medical checkup including analysis of toxic chemicals in my blood. I was surprised to find out that low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were present. The nonflammability, heat resistance, and insulating properties of these manufactured chemicals made them useful in the electrical and plastics industries from the late 1920s until the late 1970s (1). However, I had never worked in these industries. Furthermore, PCBs had been banned in the U.S. 12 years before my checkup.

So what were PCBs doing in my blood? They were present because they are persistent toxic chemicals. They hang around for a long time and accumulate in the tissues of organisms, especially the fatty tissues. Their ability to biomagnify in food chains means that each predator will accumulate higher levels of PCBs than were present in its prey. Top predators such as orca whales, other large marine mammals, birds of prey such as ospreys and bald eagles, and humans will have the highest levels of PCBs in their bodies (1,2).

My exposure was likely through the food chain, when I ate fish, meat, and dairy products contaminated with the chemicals. Just like my exposure through the food chain, Puget Sound’s wildlife is similarly exposed to PCBs in their food. Puget Sound resident orca whales have the highest PCBs levels of any whales on Earth. This is because they are at the top of the food chain and eat Chinook salmon that have accumulated PCBs from their prey (3).

Because they are so persistent, more than 30 years after bans in the U.S. and many other countries, PCBs continue to be found in soil, sediments, fish, wildlife, and most people including people living thousands of miles from the sources of these chemicals. Wind currents transport PCBs long distances, where they then settle out in lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans, and make their way up the food chain.  The Inuits, who inhabit northern Canada and Baffin Island, eat the meat and blubber of large marine mammals and have the highest PCBs levels of any people in the world (1,4).

PCBs in Puget Sound

For more than 20 years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been sampling Puget Sound fish for the presence of PCBs and other toxic chemicals. Every two years, WDFW biologists sample 120 English sole at each of 10 locations in Puget Sound. PCBs have the ability to glom onto sediments, exposing the animals that live there. Because English sole feed in the sediments at the bottom of Puget Sound, PCBs levels in these fish reflect sediment levels of PCBs. The accumulation of PCBs in sediments and aquatic organisms means that these both can be considered reservoirs of  PCBs in Puget Sound.

Sadly, scientists are not finding consistent declines in these chemicals in our local fish. During a recent fish sampling and analysis day, WDFW biologist Jim West said “ levels of PCBs in English sole and other Puget Sound fish species have remained constant during the past 20 years for most locations, neither increasing nor decreasing” (2).  

Sediments that are contaminated can be cleaned up by removing the sediments or capping them with clean sediments. There have been successful sediment cleanup projects in Puget Sound. For example, PAHs, another class of contaminants, are now lower in the sediments of Sinclair Inlet adjacent to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and lower in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island than they were 20 years ago.  This has resulted in a reduction of contaminant-related disease in English sole from Sinclair Inlet and Eagle Harbor (2,5).   

But cleanups are expensive. The most cost-effective approach to reduce exposure of fish and humans to toxic chemicals is to prevent discharge of such chemicals at the source. Unfortunately, it is too late to do this for PCBs. As Jim West pointed out, “The cat is already out of the bag on PCBs.  We need to apply lessons learned from PCBs contamination of sediments and fish to other toxic chemicals in Puget Sound” (2).

1.  Wright, David A. and Pamela Welbourn (2002).  Environmental Toxicology.  Cambridge University  Press, Cambridge, U.K.

2.  West, Jim, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Interview, May 17, 2011

3.  Ross,, P.S., G.M. Ellis, M.G. Ikonomou, L.G. Barrett-Lennard, and R.F. Addison (2000).  “High PCB concentrations in free-ranging Pacific killer whales, Orcinus orca: effects of age, sex and dietary preference.  Marine Pollution Bulletin 40: 504-515.

4.  Colburn, Theo, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers (1997).  Our Stolen Future, Penguin Books, New York, N.Y.

5.  Myers, M.S., B.F. Anulacion, B.L. French, W.L. Reichert, C.A. Laetz, J.Bozitis, O.P. Olson, S. Sol, and T.K. Collier (2008).  “Improved flatfish health following remediation of a PAH_contaminated site in Eagle Harbor, Washington.” Aquatic Toxicology 88: 277-288.

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment in a series of posts looking into some of the the chemical pollutants that have contaminated Puget Sound’s fish and wildlife and pose one of the greatest threats to their survival. This is part two of a two-part series, The Chemicals That Just Won’t Go Away, that examines polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are still polluting people and the environment despite being banned over 30 years ago. 

This post was written by Dr. Fran Solomon, an environmental biologist who teaches courses and gives seminars for university students, environmental and health care professionals, and the general public about toxic chemicals and how they affect human health and the aquatic environment.

Lowered Resistance to Disease

At the same time that I found out there were PCBs in my blood, 18,000 harbor seals died in the North Sea. This was 40% of the harbor seal population in this body of water located between Great Britain and the Netherlands. Simultaneously, a viral infection that swept through the striped dolphin population in the Mediterranean Sea resulted in the deaths of 1,100 dolphins. In both situations, there was a correlation between levels of PCBs in the blood of the dead animals and weakened immune defense systems shown by lower white blood cell counts and antibody levels. Normally, the striped dolphins would have been able to fight off the infection in the same way that humans can fight off colds and other viral infections (1).  In Puget Sound, tests have found that some ospreys and orca whales have high enough levels of PCBs in their bodies to weaken their immune defense systems (2,3).
 
Impaired functioning of the immune defense system is seen in exposed humans too. Inuit infants, who have elevated levels of PCBs in umbilical cord blood at birth, suffer higher rates of ear infections and other respiratory diseases than other infants in the province of Quebec. Prenatal exposure to PCBs may have weakened the developing immune defense systems of the Inuit infants (4).

 Jim West explains how PCBs are still ending up in Puget Sound

Effects on Brain Development

In the 1980s, some 11-year old children in the Great Lakes region of North America did not perform well on tests of intelligence, short-term memory, verbal skills, and muscle coordination. The common factor among these children was that their mothers had eaten Great Lakes fish—contaminated with PCBs—two or three times each month before becoming pregnant. The PCBs had accumulated in the bodies of the women at higher levels than in the fish, and were then exported across the placenta to the developing fetuses. When the babies were born, they looked normal but it turned out their brains had been compromised, with the most severely affected 11-year olds born to mothers with the highest PCBs levels in their blood or milk. We now know that PCBs impair the functioning of the thyroid gland, which plays an important role prenatally in brain development (1,5).

Hormone Disruption

Pacific salmon were introduced into the Great Lakes of the U.S. and Canada in the 1960s. By the 1990s, many Great Lakes salmon had enlarged thyroid glands correlated with high levels of PCBs in their blood and muscle tissue. Enlarged thyroid glands indicate subnormal levels of thyroid hormones (1).
 
PCBs are structurally similar to the female sex hormone estradiol. Not surprisingly, they mimic this hormone and can trick the cells of an exposed organism into reacting in the same way as they would react to estradiol. A large body of evidence indicates that continual exposure to low levels of PCBs and other endocrine-disruptor chemicals has contributed to the threefold increase in the breast cancer rate of American women since 1960. A study of 224 Long Island, New York women with early stage breast cancer showed that women with the highest blood PCBs levels had the highest risk of recurrence (6).
 
People can reduce their exposure to PCBs by eating fish with low PCBs levels in the fillets and avoiding species such as sediment-dwelling bottom fish that have high PCBs levels.  The Washington State Department of Health website (www.doh.wa.gov) provides advice on which fish can be eaten frequently, which should be eaten only occasionally, and which should be avoided.
 
Unfortunately for orcas and other wildlife in Puget Sound, they haven’t learned to go to helpful websites and follow fish consumption advice. The cat may be out of the bag with PCBs, but it’s not too late to enact policies that will keep us from repeating history with long-lasting chemicals that harm both people and wildlife.
 
1. Colburn, Theo, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers (1997).  Our Stolen Future, Penguin Books, New York, N.Y.

2. West, Jim, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Interview, May 17, 2011

3. Hickie, B.E., P.S.. Ross, R.W. MacDonald, and J.K.B. Ford (2007).  “Killer whales (Orcinus orca) face protracted health risks associated with lifetime exposure to PCBs.” Environmental Science and Technology 41(18): 6613-6619.

4. Dallaire, Frederic, Eric Dewailly, Carole Vezina, Gina Muckle, Jean-Philippe Weber, Suzanne Bruneau, and Pierre Ayotte (2006).  “Effect of prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls on incidence of acute respiratory infections in preschool Inuit children,” Environmental Health Perspectives 114: 1301-1425. 

5. Jacobson, J.L.and S.W. Jacobson (1996). « Intellectual impairment in children exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls in utero.”  New England Journal of Medicine 335: 783-789.

6. Gray, Janet, ed. (2008). State of the Evidence: What is the Connection Between the Environment and Breast Cancer?  5th edition, Breast Cancer Fund (http://www.breastcancerfund.org), San Francisco, CA.

Score one for children’s health and the environment today as the EPA announced a voluntary phase-out of the toxic flame retardant deca (BDE) by the only two U.S. deca manufacturers and the largest U.S. importer. While the voluntary agreement is important, enforceable bans on the chemical still must move forward in state legislatures and Congress to ensure a complete phase-out.

Under the voluntary agreement, the manufacturers agreed to stop producing, importing, and selling deca for most uses in the United States by 2012, and end all uses by 2013.

The agreement follows years of battles in state legislatures across the country, including Washington state, over banning the chemical. Under the leadership of Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48), Sen. Debbie Regala (D-27), Governor Gregoire, and the Department of Ecology, the state adopted one of the first deca bans in the nation in 2007. Manufacturers will still have to comply with Washington’s law for these products despite the voluntary agreement.

Also today Rep. Chellie Pindgree of Maine introduced legislation in Congress to phase out deca across the country. A federal ban on deca remains necessary to ensure the phase out takes place and that any replacement flame retardants do not harm health or the environment.

Deca has been linked to variety of health impacts, including developmental and reproductive problems and compromised immune systems. PBDEs have been found as a contaminant in breast milk, people, orca whales, and other wildlife.

Our press statement on the agreement is available here.