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Minnesota retailers cited for taking action on chemicals in products; others should follow

REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Minnesota retailers Target and Best Buy are developing safer chemical policies to keep harmful chemicals out of the products they sell.

Looking ahead to 2017, there’s some good health news for Minnesota consumers. Across our nation big retailers are adopting safer chemical policies as part of their sustainability programs and becoming increasingly important players in the movement to healthier products and safer chemicals, including right here in Minnesota.

Kathleen Schuler

Retailers are using their considerable clout to address and eliminate chemicals of concern from their supply chains. U.S. consumers are demanding products that are free of hormone disrupting chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A and chemicals associated with negative impacts on brain development, such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and certain flame retardants. The ubiquitous presence of potentially toxic chemicals in everyday consumer products is subtly impacting our health, resulting in increased risks for cancer, developmental disabilities, obesity and diabetes, as well as asthma.

Minnesota retailers Target and Best Buy are developing safer chemical policies to keep harmful chemicals out of the products they sell. According to a recent report, “Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions,” a retailer report card that rates the top U.S. retailers on their policies and actions to address chemicals, Target and Best Buy are among the high scorers. Amazon, Costco and Albertson’s scored lowest, all receiving an “F” grade. However, with an average grade of “D+,” most retailers have long way to go.

Target earned a “B,” as did top scorer Walmart. Target deserves credit for its Sustainable Product Index (SPI), a framework it developed to evaluate chemicals used in personal care, baby care and cleaning products. Target has flagged more than 2,000 chemicals of concern for reduction or elimination and also evaluates products based on ingredient transparency, sustainable packaging, and environmental stewardship. This past year it added cosmetics to its policy, along with new criteria for disclosure of fragrance palette ingredients, allergens and nanomaterials, positioning it as a retailer leader in ingredient transparency. In addition, it prominently features healthier and safer products through its “Made to Matter” product lines. While Target has made great progress in addressing chemicals in its products, it could improve its score in the future by setting clear timelines and quantifiable chemical reduction goals and by expanding its policy to include chemically intensive products such as apparel, furniture and electronics.

Best Buy received a grade of “C-,” because it is actively developing a safer chemical policy to include a list of chemicals of concern (known as a restricted substance list), as well as a “manufactured restricted substance list” (MRSL) to avoid chemicals used in manufacturing that do not end up in the final product. A MRSL will prevent worker exposures and environmental contamination in the manufacturing process and help drive chemicals of concern out of electronics. Best Buy can continue to make progress by setting goals and benchmarks for elimination of priority chemicals such as toxic flame retardants in its private label televisions and other electronics, as well as putting pressure on brand name electronics to eliminate hazardous chemicals. 

While Target and Best Buy are making steady progress on addressing chemicals in consumer products, retailers at the bottom of the pack, Amazon and Costco, should start by developing a written safer chemical policy that sets clear goals and timelines for reducing, eliminating and safely substituting chemicals of high concern and requiring disclosure of chemical ingredient information.

As a grandparent, I’m always looking for the safest products possible for my grandkids, so it’s nice to know that Target and Best Buy are prioritizing the health of families across Minnesota and the nation, by taking action on known hazardous chemicals in their products. I encourage them to continue making progress on this critical path to preventing unnecessary chemical exposures.

Kathleen Schuler is co-director of the Healthy Legacy coalition and director of Healthy Kids and Families, Conservation Minnesota.

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Comments (1)

Bringing Light to a Critical Issue

Kathleen, thank you for shedding light on a commonly silent issue. As a young mother I first learned of these chemicals in our everyday products just over a year ago. As a division I athlete and Duke graduate I was shocked I had never heard of this issue before. I'm now committed to helping others live a toxic free life and applaud your efforts in sharing this information as well. I am not surprised by the ratings as I have asked Costco management multiple times for ingredients in their Kirkland "free & clear" detergent and have yet to receive a response. When we know better, we can do better and then demand better. Keep voting with your wallet and hopefully many other retailers will continue to clean up their products. Our nation is sicker than ever and I have no doubt its due to these environmental factors in our products and food. Thank you!