Toxic Chemicals in Dollar Store Products 2022

The Ecology Center partnered with the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a project of Coming Clean and the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance, to screen consumer products sold at discount retailers, also known as dollar stores. 

Major discount retailer chains have been slow to improve product safety despite years of consumer pressure. Toxic Chemicals in Dollar Store Products found hazardous chemicals in children's products sold by the leading dollar store brands in the U.S. The study targeted retailers including Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, Five Below and 99 Cents Only Stores.

“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.

Chemical Hazard Screening Summary 

The preliminary screening results for products indicate a number of chemical hazards are present in Dollar Store products. Overall, one-half (53%) of the products screened had one or more chemicals of concern.

The following concerns were identified in the products which were tested.

• Canned food products with toxic interior can coatings, including BPA-based epoxy and PVC can body coatings

• Pans and cookware coated with PTFE (a PFAS coating) and BPA-based epoxy

• Microwave popcorn products with PFAS coatings inside the packaging. 100% of microwave popcorn tested positive for PFAS coatings

• Bisphenol S in 100% of store receipts tested from all retailers

• Products made with flexible PVC which had banned, regulated or inadequately studied plasticizers

• Consumer electronics with lead solder, flame retardants and phthalate plasticizers

• A variety of products which contained other chemicals of concern, including antimony compounds, organotins and bromine

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. Studies have shown that childhood phthalate exposure is associated with higher incidence of childhood cancer. 

Sample Collection

In early 2021, 226 products were purchased from all of the leading dollar store retailers in the US and Canada. Products were purchased from seven states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, New Mexico, Washington, Maine, Texas) and Ontario, Canada. Products tested included 226 consumer products, 33 cans of food, and 22 packages of microwave popcorn. Receipts from 28 store purchases were also tested. The 226 products contained a total of 635 unique components or materials. Each of these were tested using one or more test methods, depending on the typical chemicals of concern for that product type. For food products, the packaging, not the food, was tested.

Progress from Discount Retailers 

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.

However, 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.