Major chains have been slow to improve product safety despite years of consumer pressure
A new product screening report released today by the Campaign for Healthier Solutions and the Ecology Center Healthy Stuff lab found hazardous chemicals in children’s products sold by the leading dollar store brands in the US.
“Many families rely on dollar stores for affordable toys and other products for kids. With their high profit margins, dollar stores must do more to ensure that all of these products are safe,” said José Bravo, National Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions.
Tests revealed the presence of lead, phthalates, toxic flame retardant chemicals, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) components in colorfully-labeled children’s products at Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Five Below. Lead was found in Disney and Marvel themed kids’ headphones at Five Below and Dollar Tree, a plastic baby toy at Dollar Tree, and 99 Cents Only Stores’ private-label earbuds. Ortho-phthalate plasticizers were found in children’s hair accessories and toys at Five Below. Fake teeth and lips sold at Dollar Tree and Dollar General were found to contain PVC, a dangerous plastic that can leach hazardous chemicals, such as phthalates and heavy metals.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates and lead are especially harmful to children at low levels, and are known to negatively impact reproductive and cognitive development. A 2022 study of unprecedented scope found that childhood phthalate exposure is associated with higher incidence of childhood cancer.
“No child should be exposed to phthalates in any household products, and it is especially concerning to see phthalates present in toys specifically marketed to them,” said Tracy Gregoire, Director of the Healthy Children Project at the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “These chemicals are linked to lifelong learning challenges, ADHD and lower IQ.”
In June 2021, shortly after these products were collected for testing, Dollar Tree updated its priority chemical policy, committing to eliminate the use of PVC in all private‐brand children’s products, and phthalates from private-brand food and beverage products. Effective in 2020, the company has also prohibited the intentional addition of lead, asbestos and BPA in private-brand children’s products.
“Dollar Tree has taken an important first step by committing to eliminate 20 chemicals in its private-label products, and by joining the Chemical Footprint Project to better monitor its supply chain,” said Bravo. “But the company now needs to expand their list of restricted chemicals and apply this to a wider scope of products. We call on other dollar stores to match these efforts and go even further to ensure that products are safe for children and families.”
“This isn’t the first time that our tests have shown unsafe levels of hazardous chemicals in children’s products,” said Jeff Gearhart, M.S., Research Director of HealthyStuff.org. “Of the164 dollar store products that we tested in 2015, 81% contained one or more chemicals of concern, including children’s backpacks, bath toys and kids’ accessories.”
“We should not have to wait this long for dollar stores to adopt safer chemicals policies. Some chains like 99 Cents Only Stores and Five Below have so far shown little to no interest in adopting safer chemicals policies, while Dollar Tree is leading the discount retail sector and Dollar General continues to make slow progress,” added Bravo.
The tests released today also show that several canned food items sold at 99 Cents Only Stores, Dollar Tree and Dollar General contained toxic interior coatings, including BPA-based epoxy and PVC can body coatings. Of the 226 consumer and food products tested at Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, 99 Cents Only, and Five Below, 53% of the products screened in 2021 contained one or more chemicals of concern. All of the products tested were purchased in 2021.
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions is a coalition led by the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) and Coming Clean, that includes environmental justice, public health and community organizations. Launched in 2015, CHS works with discount retailers to adopt responsible hazardous chemical policies. Their 2015 report “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” found that one half of major US dollar stores are located within three miles of a facility that uses or stores hazardous chemicals, disproportionately exposing low-income communities and communities of color to harmful toxics. Learn more at NontoxicDollarStores.org.
The Ecology Center is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization established in 1970 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Ecology Center develops innovative solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet in four primary areas: Environmental Health, Energy & Climate Change, Environmental Education, and Zero Waste. This work is accomplished through educating consumers to help keep their families healthy and safe, pushing corporations to use clean energy, make safe products, providing people with innovative services that promote healthy people and a healthy planet and working with policymakers to establish laws that protect communities and the environment. For more information visit www.ecocenter.org and follow @Ecology_Center