Concerned about hazardous chemicals found in products and food purchased from the Dollar Tree stores (or Dollar Tree owned Family Dollar stores)—including per/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in microwave popcorn, bisphenol-A (BPA) in canned food, arsenic in infant rice cereal, and heavy metals and phthalates in consumer products—stock-holding parents and health experts asked executives to adopt comprehensive hazardous chemical policies and share them with the public, as other retailers have already done.
These shareholding customers thanked Dollar Tree executives for sending a letter to suppliers asking them to phase out 17 highly hazardous chemicals from its products by 2020. They also asked for an update and urged the chain to do more, but received no response.
Jose Bravo, Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, asked Dollar Tree's CEO, Gary Philbin, if they would sell healthy fruits and vegetables alongside sugary junk food at Dollar Tree's newly launched "Snack Zones", but he did not make any commitments. Finally, the campaign also presented a letter from the Learning Disabilities Association of America and 24 partner organizations to Dollar Tree executives urging them to adopt comprehensive and transparent policies to address chemicals linked to learning and developmental disabilities.
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a coalition of public health, environmental justice, and economic justice groups purchased shares in order to attend the Dollar Tree's annual meeting and seek commitments to reduce customer's exposure to toxic chemicals, especially in communities which already face disproportionate exposure to hazardous chemicals and pollution.
The campaign is focusing on reducing chemical exposures from dollar store products and foods because dollar stores are a substantial and growing retail segment, and because they lag far behind other retailers at establishing proactive hazardous chemical policies. Many rural communities or low-income families have limited access to other retail outlets, which creates concern that some people have no choice but to bring products home to their families which carry fewer assurances of toxic chemical safety, and which have sometimes been found to contain hazardous levels of chemicals linked to a wide range of chronic health problems.
Jose Bravo, Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions said, "Today, Dollar Tree executives missed an opportunity to bolster customer's confidence in the safety of their products when they failed to provide any further details on their effort to protect shoppers from toxic chemicals. We deeply appreciate Dollar Tree's work to get suppliers to phase-out hazardous substances, but how can customers feel safer if their progress is kept a secret? Openness and honesty are the best way to restore consumer confidence in dollar store products, and Dollar Tree will continue to create liabilities for its shareholders until they establish transparent, public, and comprehensive chemical policies--as other retailers have already done. Until then, advocates for safety and public health will simply have to keep testing products and food, playing 'gotcha' every time we find something toxic."
Tracy Gregoire, an advocate with the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA) of America, said, "Practically every American knows someone who has been impacted by learning and developmental disabilities—now affecting 1 in 6 children. Roughly a quarter of these disabilities are linked to toxic chemical exposures. Lead, found in children's products purchased at Dollar Tree, is linked to lower IQ, learning and behavior challenges. Prenatal and early childhood exposure to hazardous substances like this can lead to life-long impacts and chronic health conditions. Dollar Tree has both the opportunity and the responsibility to become an industry leader by advancing strong and transparent safer chemical policies."
Product testing of items purchased at Dollar Tree locations revealed that many contained toxic chemicals at levels which may pose a threat to customers and their families. This independent laboratory testing found numerous products containing lead, phthalates, polyvinyl chloride, chromium, antimony, and other hazardous chemicals at levels above safety guidelines established by other retail chains or governing bodies.
Further, recent testing found Bisphenol-A (BPA) in the liners of canned food purchased at Dollar Tree, which is known to leach into food. BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical contributing to breast and prostate cancer, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, and other health problems. Recent testing of microwave popcorn purchased from Dollar Tree also found that bags were laced with per/polyfluoroalkyl substances, which disrupt the body’s endocrine system and have been linked to a wide range of health problems.
These results add to widespread public sentiment that dollar store products may be more dangerous than products purchased from other major retailers. Community advocates said that it is especially important for Dollar Tree to catch up to other retailers and exceed mere compliance with federal law because their stores are often located in communities facing higher rates of toxic chemical exposure (including pollution, workplace exposures, and other sources).
Mily Trevino-Sauceda, a farmworker leader/organizer in central California with Lideres Campesinas, said, "We came here to Dollar Tree today to say they need to do more to protect our families--their customers--from toxic chemicals. Last year they promised to get rid of some toxic chemicals by 2020, but they won't provide an update. Many Dollar Tree customers live in food deserts or have low income and can’t afford to shop elsewhere, so these dollar stores should do at least as much as other stores to protect our health. Farmworkers, who grow the food America eats, often have to rely on junk food from dollar stores because there are no other options around. We hope Dollar Tree takes more action to remove toxic chemicals from the products they sell and starts offering healthier options like fresh fruit and vegetables."
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions isn't calling for a boycott of Dollar Tree, but rather is working to encourage the chain to follow the leadership of other retailers by identifying and removing harmful chemicals from their products, and making those efforts known to the public. The campaign seeks to work with discount retailers to help them protect their customers and the communities in which they operate.
The Campaign for Healthier Solutions is a diverse coalition of over 100 environmental justice, medical, public health, community, and women's organizations working with discount retailers toward responsible hazardous chemical policies and better corporate citizenship.