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By Tom Vitaglione, Senior Fellow

Despite its prowess as a retailer, Macy’s is perhaps best known for its Thanksgiving Day Parade. This Thanksgiving, Macy’s is giving children and families another present: the corporation has agreed to phase out the use of toxic flame retardants in its furniture products.

This is especially important because studies show that 90% of American women of childbearing age have toxic flame retardants in their bodies that may increase the risk of cancer, brain damage and loss of intelligence in their babies. Though the specific association of these toxic chemicals to both fetal and infant mortality cannot be specifically quantified, they don’t belong in the human body and the reduction of their presence can’t be anything but encouraging.

This good news follows similar announcements from other big retailers, such as IKEA, Walmart and Ashley’s Furniture Industries. All are the result of a national campaign, known as Mind the Store, facilitated by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a national health and environmental advocacy group. By linking advocacy groups across the country, which in turn generate awareness and support among local consumers, large online petitions and email campaigns get the attention of corporate leadership.

NC Child is pleased to be part of a North Carolina coalition participating in the Mind the Store campaign, which has been underway for more than a year. The good news regarding flame retardants was preceded earlier this year by announcements form both Home Depot and Lowe’s Cos. that they would phase out vinyl flooring with potentially toxic phthalates. Lumber Liquidators Holdings, which also sold flooring containing phthalates, has been working since last year to reduce the levels of the chemical in its flooring. The chain has also suspended the sale of Chinese-made laminate flooring with excessive levels of formaldehyde after serious concerns were raised.

This corporate approach has taken center stage in the advocacy community due to the lack of movement both at the federal and state levels to strengthen the regulation of toxic chemicals in consumer products. The federal Toxic Substances Control Act has not been updated since 1977, and is so weak that about 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into the marketplace without testing for toxic effects on humans. The federal law will finally be updated soon, but the advocacy community is generally pessimistic that the new law will effectively reduce the presence of toxic chemicals in consumer products.

While some states have made progress in this area, North Carolina is one of the majority of states that are reluctant to regulate the marketplace, in effect placing business interests above safety concerns. In fact, two attempts in the recent legislative session (one in the House and one in the Senate) to reduce the presence of toxic chemicals in consumer products (and especially children’s products) remain languishing in committees.

Because of this lack of political will, it is likely that the Mind the Store campaign will be a major focus of the advocacy community. The corporate response thus far has been gratifying, and the corporations deserve praise for responding to consumer appeals for product safety. This is yet another thing to be grateful for as Thanksgiving approaches.

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