On Monday, consumers and families concerned about toxic chemicals found in products sold by the discount retail chain '99 Cents Only' held a large demonstration and delivered 150,000 petition signatures urging the chain to take action and protect its customers.
“I flew from Houston to Los Angeles with my newborn baby and 12 year-old son because we're constantly coming into contact with products which may contain toxic chemicals,” said Deyadira Trevino, who works with T.E.J.A.S. (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services). She continued; “My family and our communities often don't have any choice but to shop at stores like 99 Cents Only, and we deserve safe, nontoxic products just like everyone else.”
This demonstration and petition delivery was organized by The Campaign for Healthier Solutions (a coalition of over 140 environmental justice, public health, 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 Jennifer 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.
The chemicals of concern found in 81% of products tested from 99 Cents Only and other discount retailers (commonly called “dollar stores”) 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 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.
Martha Arguello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, said; “We are deeply concerned about the toxic chemicals in the products sold by 99 Cent Only.” She continued; “Many of these stores serve low-income and people-of-color communities who already face unacceptable levels of environmental risks. We need retailers to show some social responsibility for the health of their customers and communities by ensuring that the products they sell are free from toxic chemicals that will end up in our bodies, landfills, water, and our very soil that gives us our food.”
"Independent testing showed that pencil pouches, earrings and other products bought at dollar stores, including 99 Cents Only, 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.
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 Family Dollar, and given the toxic chemicals found in dollar store products these communities are unable to avoid exposure.
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.
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.
Mily Trevino, who works to organize farmworkers in the Central Valley of California with Lideres Campesinas, said; “Farmworkers earn between $9,000 to $13,000 annually. Most of the time their families live in isolated towns and dollar stores like 99 Cents Only are the only stores we have access to. Because of our low income, I personally end up buying food and other products at these stores and my children deserve safe and healthy products as much as anyone's.”
“Where I live in Albuquerque, often the only place to shop is at dollar stores, but this means my family and community are exposed to toxic chemicals more than some other families,” said Helga Garcia Garza, who works with Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, NM. She continued; “That's why we left homes, communities and work to come here and call on 99 Cents Only to remove toxic chemicals from their products. What we want them to know is that we're educating our communities and families about the risk of toxic chemicals exposure from these products.”
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, 99 Cents Only has yet to adopt comprehensive chemical disclosure or management policies. The Campaign for Healthier Solutions isn't calling for a boycott of Family Dollar, 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 99 Cents Only offering assistance and asking for a meeting to discuss these issues, but has yet to receive a formal response.