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In major consumer health win, retailers phasing out PFAS, the ‘forever chemicals,’ in products and food packaging

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 19, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – Toxic chemicals are hiding in everyday products, from cleaning products and food packaging to baby toys and electronics. A new report reveals that many of North America’s largest retail companies, including Lowe’s and Ahold Delhaize, parent company of Food Lion, are embracing chemical safety policies to help protect consumers from exposure to toxic chemicals in products.

The fourth annual Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals evaluated and graded the chemical policies and practices of 43 retail chains with more than 190,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada, as part of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign.

Children and Pregnant Women are of Greatest Concern

“Kids and babies are exposed every day to contaminants that can affect growth, learning, and behavior. Chemicals that can thwart healthy development don’t belong in children’s toys, clothes, or food packaging,” said Vikki Crouse, Health Program Associate at NC Child. “The scientific evidence continues to grow for health hazards from exposure to chemicals such as phthalates, PFAS, and flame retardants, particularly during critical life stages like childhood and pregnancy. We are particularly concerned about the impacts of PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals,’ on babies and children.”

In the largest-ever analysis of its kind, 63% of evaluated companies improved over the past year alone. The study also found dramatic improvement in retailer chemical action between 2016 to 2019, with the average grade moving from D+ to B- for the eleven retailers evaluated since 2016.

This consumer protection progress comes at a time when the Environmental Protection Agency has weakened or delayed action on hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious illnesses

“Our federal government has failed to act on hazardous chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm, and other serious illnesses that endanger the long-term well-being of children and their families,” explains report co-author Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. “In light of this growing regulatory void, some major retailers are stepping up to bring health products into the hands of consumers.”

North Carolina is Home to Leading Retailers

For the first time ever, major retail grocers and restaurants are focused on eliminating classes of toxic chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), ortho-phthalates and bisphenols from food packaging materials, which have been found to be a source of exposure to harmful contaminants. These actions respond to growing consumer concern about food safety and toxic chemicals.

For the second year in a row, four retailers lead the pack by receiving the highest grades for their work to protect customers from toxic products and packaging: Apple (A+), Target (A), Walmart (A) and IKEA (A-). The average grade earned by all forty-three retailers evaluated was a C-. This is a gain from last year’s D+ average, but also reveals room for improvement.

The most improved companies are Ahold Delhaize (which owns Food Lion), Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Dollar General, Panera Bread, Sephora, and Staples. In the two months leading up to the release of the report, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ahold Delhaize, and Staples also made notable, new chemical safety commitments, including adopting new policies restricting certain toxic chemicals such as PFAS harmful to human health and the environment.

Ahold Delhaize owns NC-based grocery store chain Food Lion. Their new chemical commitment will restrict toxic chemicals, including PFAS, BPA, ortho-pthalates and other chemicals in its own banded products. Product categories include: baby food, infant formula, as well as formulated laundry, home, personal care, cosmetic and baby products.

North Carolina-based environmental health organizations are pleased to see home improvement retailer Lowe’s listed as one of the most improved retailers on this issue — primarily because of the chain’s strong action curbing exposure to a toxic class of chemicals known as PFAS. PFAS has been linked to cancer and other health concerns.

“PFAS has been used widely by manufacturers in a variety of industries for decades and has been discovered in North Carolina drinking water. While we continue to wait for strong action from state and federal decision makers, it’s heartening to see markets pay attention and step up to protect North Carolina families. We hope other retailers follow suit to limit the sale of products that unnecessarily expose families to the dangers posed by these chemicals,” said Stephanie Schweickert, Senior Campaign Organizer at NC Conservation Network.

For a full list of the evaluated companies and their detailed grades, analysis of trends, recommendations, and more, visit RetailerReportCard.com.

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