November 12, 2015. Goodlettsville, TN - Today, consumers and families concerned about toxic chemicals found in products sold by the discount retail chain 'Dollar General' held a demonstration and delivered 150,000 petition signatures urging the chain to take action and protect its customers. Corporate officials from Dollar General accepted the petition signatures, but would not respond to the campaign's request that they work with suppliers to phase-out toxic chemicals from their products or even to a meeting campaign representatives to discuss just and equitable corporate chemicals policies to protect their customers and their families.
“I traveled all the way from Houston to Nashville to be a part of this action and represent my community—which is already overburdened with toxic emissions from industries that produce chemicals similar to the ones found in Dollar General's products,” said Yudith Nieto, who works with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.). She continued; “As a young woman who has yet to have children, I worry that all these chemicals found in our air and in the products we purchase will affect my body and my unborn child.”
This demonstration and petition delivery was organized by The Campaign for Healthier Solutions (a coalition of over 140 environmental justice, public health, business, community, and women's organizations) after a recent report found that 81% of dollar store products tested contained chemicals linked to cancer, diabetes, and developmental disabilities. The petition, which was endorsed by actress Jennifegr Beals and hosted on Change.org, quickly gained tens of thousands of signatures over the summer. This demonstration and signature delivery was held in conjunction with petition deliveries and other events in several states across the nation.
Gregg Suzanne McAllister, who works with People Concerned About Chemical Safety and director of Mothers of Diversity America emphasized the exploitative dynamics of the corporation's indifference to evidence that toxic chemicals have been detected in many products they sell. She said “They have an opportunity to respond to reports about toxic chemicals in their products before 'regulations' force them to comply.” She continued; “Getting ahead of this is a proactive measure that is good for business. It shows they care about the welfare of the communities they serve and the employees who handle their products."
The chemicals of concern found in 81% of products tested from Dollar General and other discount retailers (commonly called “dollar stores”) include: phthalates, linked to birth defects, reduced fertility, cancer, learning disabilities, diabetes, andother health issues; polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC or vinyl), which has been linked to asthma and lung effects; and toxic metals such as lead, which harms brain development leading to learning disabilities, lower IQ, and other serious health impacts, especially in children.
“Sadly, Dollar General appears to be hiding behind their statement that their products 'meet regulations', but the evidence shows that, regardless of the regulations, their products may be dangerous to their customers and their children,” said Tracy Gregoire, who works with the Learning Disabilities Association of America. She continued; “Today, we told them that they have the power, and the responsibility, to tell their suppliers to get toxic chemicals out of their products. It's unacceptable to knowingly sell products which contain toxic chemicals linked to learning disabilities and other health issues.”
Combined, discount chain retailers have sales totaling over $36 billion and operate more stores nationally than Walmart. Many communities of color and low-income families have no other choice but to shop at stores such as Dollar General, and given the toxic chemicals found in dollar store products these communities are unable to avoid exposure.
"Independent testing showed that pencil pouches, earrings and other products bought at dollar stores contained dangerous amounts of lead, which can lead to lower IQ's and learning disabilities in children. Even worse, these dollar stores are often located in Latino and Black communities—who's children already face some of the highest levels of lead poisoning in the nation. Learning disabilities caused by lead in products are an environmental injustice that no parent wants their children to face," said Jose Bravo, Campaign Coordinator with the Campaign for Healthier Solutions.
Data compiled by public interest researchers in 2014 shows discount retailers’ core customer base (42%) is lower-income people who make less than $30,000 a year (report, pg 14). Forty percent (40%) of customers rely on public assistance of some type. And residents in these communities often have reduced access to quality medical care, fresh and healthy food, and public services, which are critical to overall health and to withstanding chemical exposures. In many of these communities, dollar stores are the only store selling household goods, including food. Forty percent (40%) of sales at dollar stores go toward food products—much of which is highly processed with low nutritional quality, and whose packaging is another potential source of toxic chemicals including bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic hormone linked to breast and others cancers, reproductive problems, obesity, disrupted puberty and heart disease.
“Most of these stores are found in low income communities and communities of color, which means that often they are the only place we can shop,” said Bahati Ansari, who works with Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She continued; “However, we still deserve items that are healthy and safe for our community. I want to encourage dollar stores like Dollar General to sit down and talk with us about how we can work together and find safe, nontoxic products to sell in our communities. This is could be a win-win for Dollar General and the communities they serve.”
These factors often compound, leading communities of color and low-income families to experience disproportionate rates of learning disabilities and other health impacts. Because of their importance to these disproportionately impacted communities, dollar stores hold a higher level of responsibility to ensure they are not selling products which contain harmful chemicals any would further endanger people of color, the demonstrators noted.
Although some discount retailers (such as Target and Walmart) have taken specific actions to remove harmful products from their shelves or test some of their products, Dollar General has yet to adopt comprehensive, publicly available chemical disclosure or management policies. The Campaign for Healthier Solutions isn't calling for a boycott of Dollar General, but instead organized today's demonstration to encourage the chain and other discount retailers to follow Walmart, Target, Staples, and others in adopting corporate policies to identify and remove harmful chemicals from their stores. The campaign seeks to work with discount retailers to help them protect their customers and the communities in which they operate, and grow their businesses, by implementing corporate policies to identify and phase out harmful chemicals in the products they sell.
Although a recent report from The Campaign for Healthier Solutions found that 81% of dollar store products tested contained chemicals linked to cancer, developmental disabilities, and other serious health issues, 99 Cents Only has yet to confirm a meeting with the campaign or adopt corporate policies to identify and remove harmful chemicals from products sold in their stores (as other major retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Staples have already done). The chemicals of concern found in dollar store products tested include: phthalates, linked to birth defects, reduced fertility, cancer, learning disabilities, diabetes, and other health issues; polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC or vinyl), which has been linked to asthma; and toxic metals such as lead, which harms brain development, leading to learning disabilities, lower IQ, and other health impacts, especially in children.
This press conference was organized by The Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a coalition of over 100 diverse environmental justice, medical, public health, community, and women's organizations, and similar events are being held across the country this week. The campaign recently released a video starring Jennifer Beals to educate the public about the threat of toxic chemicals in dollar store products. The campaign also sent a letter to the CEO of Dollar General offering assistance and asking for a meeting to discuss these issues, but has yet to receive a formal response.
Jose Bravo; Director, Just Transition Alliance; National Coordinator, Campaign for Healthier Solutions; (619) 838-6694, email@example.com. Jose works with communities contaminated with chemicals, which occurs mostly where low income people of color are living, although everyone is at risk. Habla Espanol.