By Mike Schade, Mind The Store Campaign Director
Yesterday, Walmart announced a major update to their corporate chemicals policy with the release of their new Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide, sending a strong message to suppliers, competing retailers and the chemical industry that toxic chemicals that build up in our bodies linked to cancer, birth defects and learning disabilities have no place in products sold on store shelves.
This is big news, as our Mind the Store campaign has been challenging Walmart and the other top ten US retailers to eliminate the Hazardous 100+ chemicals of high concern from their products. Yesterday, we responded to the new announcement with this statement. We congratulate Walmart on expanding their chemicals policy with the release of this new implementation guide. The million dollar question is – will their suppliers listen? How will Walmart ensure suppliers actually comply with this important new policy? Here, we take a look at some of the more exciting elements of the expanded policy, as well as some initial thoughts on how the policy can be improved.
Raising the bar for disclosure of chemicals of concern
Arguably the most exciting elements of Walmart’s policy center on online and product-level disclosure. We are especially pleased that Walmart will now be requiring suppliers to disclose the presence of toxic chemicals of concern business-to-business through the Wercs, publicly on company websites, and even on product labels (!) beginning in January 2018. This new requirement should not only provide incentives for manufactures to reduce or eliminate the use of “priority” chemicals, to avoid having to list them on products, but also empower moms and dads to make smarter and healthier shopping choices for their families. The company is also attempting to address chemicals like fragrances, which most companies virtually never disclose. They recommend that disclosure should include “full disclosure of all ingredients including those typically protected under trade secrets (e.g. fragrances)” as well as “known residuals, contaminants and by-products”.
The question is – will suppliers listen – and how will Walmart actually ensure fragrances and other additives are actually publicly disclosed?
Expanding “Priority” list of chemicals – but what are their top ten?
This past fall, Walmart announced their new chemicals policy and were going to be prioritizing a list of ten chemicals as an initial list of “high priority” chemicals for “continuous reduction, restriction and elimination”, yet the company never disclosed the names of these chemicals. Unfortunately, Walmart is still not disclosing the names of these chemicals for “business reasons” and state that these ten chemicals are “based on (a) authoritative lists, (b) current and pending regulatory lists, (c) high prevalence in Walmart products, and (d) concerns of direct exposure to consumers.” So that leaves about 2 or 3,000 chemicals to choose from. Hmmmm, any guesses as to what ones they may be? We are disappointed that Walmart has still not disclosed their initial ten “high priority” chemicals, despite public pledges to do so. In the interest of transparency, we call on Walmart to reconsider their decision to not disclose these “high priority” chemicals. After all, American families have the right to know.
On the positive side, Walmart has announced a brand new set of “Walmart Priority Chemicals”, which is comprised of no less than twenty of the most important authoritative lists in the US and internationally identifying chemicals of high concern, such as California Proposition 65, US EPA PBT and chemical action plan chemicals, and the states of Washington and Maine chemicals, demonstrating the significance of state action on chemicals. We are very pleased that this list includes every single one of the lists we referenced on our Hazardous 100 list, and many more. While the company did not identify the actually chemicals on these lists, you don’t have to work so hard to find them. This could very well likely include thousands of chemicals, though right now it’s somewhat unclear if every single one of the substances on these lists are included, or not. By comparison, Target’s policy and list is also very significant, with over 1,000 substances.
Reducing, restricting and eliminating toxic chemicals
Walmart is now calling on suppliers to, reduce, restrict and eliminate these substances. The policy states that suppliers should:
“Reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists, which will be made public, to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy…. All suppliers are expected to reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists (made publicly available through Appendix 1) to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy.”
Tracking reduction of chemicals of concern
The company is using the Wercs database/website to notify suppliers when products they sell contain either a “Walmart Priority Chemical” or “Walmart High Priority Chemical”. Using the Wercs system, they will send an e-mail to each supplier indicating which products contain “high priority chemicals” and in the future, any time a product entered contains a “priority” or “high priority” chemical, the supplier will automatically be notified. They will also use the Wercs database to track the number of priority chemicals in products, as well as their reduction, using various metrics including quantifying reductions by weight, number of products, number of suppliers, and sales volume.
The company also plans to publicly report their progress on transparency, advancing safer formulation of products and DfE certification in the company’s 2016 Global Responsibility Report.
Getting off the toxic treadmill
Another significant element of their expanded policy is that Walmart is for the first time encouraging their suppliers to get off the toxic treadmill, and avoid “regrettable substitution” by evaluating the hazards of replacement chemicals and embracing best in class “informed substitution” and “alternatives assessment” principles. Walmart states:
“Informed substitution is the considered transition from a chemical of particular concern to safer chemicals or non-chemical alternatives . Using informed substitution principles will mitigate hazard risks associated with product formulation and achieve compliance with Walmart’s Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables…In the aim of advancing safer formulated products and promoting informed substitution, Walmart recommends the major tenets of Alternatives Assessment, a process for identifying, comparing and selecting safer alternatives to priority chemicals (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of their hazards, performance, and economic viability…”
In their guide, they cite many great resources, such as the Pharos Chemical and Material Library, BizNGO’s Chemical Alternatives Assessment Protocol, and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production’s Alternatives Assessment Protocol. It’ll be interesting to see whether suppliers listen, and use these useful tools. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
What’s good for our pets is good for our children
The policy impacts a number of categories of products sold at Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores in the US, primarily cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products, infant products, and pet supplies. This is a good list of products to start with, and we hope Walmart will expand this over time to all other categories where chemicals of high concern are often found, such as children’s toys, apparel, furniture, electronics, and food packaging.
We also hope Walmart will expand this policy to their stores globally. As a company that has enormous power and influence over their supply chain, if they can do it in the US, why not the rest of the world? Families worldwide deserve the same protections.
Will other retailers Mind the Store?
Today’s new announcement should be a call to action to other big box retailers, grocery stores, and drug store chains. We call on the other leading top ten retailers to join Walmart to Mind the Store and get tough on toxic chemicals. After all, with great market power comes great responsibility.
We look forward to working with Walmart and the other nine leading retailers to create similar action plans on the Hazardous 100+ list of toxic chemicals in the months to come.
We want you, our supporters and members to be the first to know that CHEJ has completed our planning process. Our Board of Directors decided that CHEJ needs to have a laser focus on building the base of grassroots groups across the country and that we will no longer take the lead on national policy or greening the marketplace efforts. Our goal is to enhance the capacity of grassroots groups and activists as they wage campaigns to protect the environment, public health, economic growth and energy/climate related solutions.
There is a critical need in the field for CHEJ’s core institutional strengths of building leadership and organizational capacity. That is not to say that others aren’t out in the field, they are. But most are activists or advocates, not trainers. CHEJ’s Leadership Training Academy will harness 33 years of experience working with and training communities. CHEJ’s Executive Director brings notoriety that attracts the media which gets messages out and has credibility with community leaders because she comes from a similar background at Love Canal. Read more >
This February 11, 2014, will mark the anniversary of the historic Environmental Justice Executive Order signed by President Clinton.
Although the Executive Order was signed by President Clinton nearly 20 years ago, it has never been fully implemented. Yes, there have been many changes in understanding and the beginnings of addressing the issues environmental justice communities face and suffer from daily, but quite honestly, I feel it’s a big disappointment. There was so much hope when leaders from all 50 states came together in 1991 to create the voice and the platform for a mulch-faceted program that would begin to recognized and address the issues faced by low-wealth and communities of color.
Dana Alston, working at that time for the Panos Institute in D.C. described the gathering and enthusiasm this way. “Joined by delegates from Puerto Rico, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands, those present at the October 24-27 meeting in Washington, D.C., set in motion a process of redefining environmental issues in their own terms. People of color gathered not in reaction to the environmental movement, but rather to reaffirm their traditional connection to and respect for the natural world, and to speak for themselves on some of the most critical issues of our times. For people of color, the environment is woven into an overall framework and understanding of social, racial, and economic justice. The definitions that emerge from the environmental justice movement led by people of color are deeply rooted in culture and spirituality, and encompass all aspects of daily life—where we live, work, and play. Read more >
December 24th 2014, Washington, D.C. & Parker County, TX – Today the EPA Inspector General found EPA Region 6 was justified in legally intervening to protect Parker County residents’ drinking water from drilling impacts. At Senator James Inhofe’s request, the Inspector General investigated to determine if Region 6’s intervention against Range Resources was due to political influence by the Obama administration.
By Steve Thompson, journalist for Dallas Mourning News.
A tentative date of Oct. 6, 2014, has been set for the trial over the explosion at West Fertilizer Co., which killed 15, injured hundreds, and did perhaps a $100 million in property damage.
That gives lawyers only a year to prepare, an ambitious time frame for such a potentially large and complex case involving at least a couple of hundred plaintiffs. But Waco District Court Judge Jim Meyer signaled flexibility.
“I don’t mind moving that date if it looks like we’re going to be running up against it,” Judge Meyer told the few dozen lawyers packed into the small courtroom.
CF Industries, one of the nation’s two manufacturers of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, is alleged to have made the fertilizer that detonated after a fire engulfed the facility April 17.
Liability questions first focused on West Fertilizer Co. Authorities said the company had kept the chemical in wooden bins in a warehouse with no sprinkler system. The locally owned company had only $1 million in insurance to cover any damage it caused.
In recent months, the city and scores of residents who suffered losses have turned their attention to CF Industries.
Plaintiffs have alleged that CF Industries should have better instructed West Fertilizer Co. on storage methods or used an additive that lessened the ammonium nitrate’s volatility.
Imagine for a moment that you live in a community that is poor. You work every day in the service industry but just can’t make enough money to move to a better neighborhood. Now imagine that you have a young child who is gifted with high level of intelligence. You want to send your child to a school that can challenge her to help reach her potential. But, you can’t because of your limited income.
This is how one mother described her situation to me recently in Detroit, Michigan. She went on to say that the area around her home and school had lead levels, left over from former lead smelter activities, which were three times the legal standard. Her child and her neighbor’s children began their lives with so much potential. Today, the children are lead poisoned and are having difficulty passing the state school standardize tests. In fact, so many children are failing the standardized tests that their school is about to be closed, their teachers fired and their community further impacted by another empty building and no neighborhood school.
When people hear about the struggles in environmental justice communities they often only think about the immediate pollution and health impacts in a low wealth community. But to understand it one level deeper you need to understand that families living in these communities are really trapped. If you were only to look at their children’s ability to get out of poverty and reach the birth potential, it speaks volumes about the real world situation.
Their children cannot reach their potential because they are impacted by the chemicals like lead in their environments. Often young people, because they are frustrated in trying to achieve in school while faced with asthma, learning disabilities, and the inability to maintain attention students end up dropping out of school. Students weren’t born with the inability to achieve; it was due to their exposures to lead and other toxic environmental chemicals that they developed problems. Once students drop out of school they have little ability to improve their economic status and thus continue the family’s legacy of poverty.
Those who have the power to change this cycle of poison and poverty choose not to. Instead they cover their intentional neglect by blaming the victims, the parents, teachers, and community leaders. Not only do those in power blame the innocent, they exasperate the problem by ignoring the existing pollution while placing more polluting faculties in the area. I think it was Mayor Bloomberg who said, “Do you really want me to put that smokestack in downtown Manhattan?” when community leaders near NYC navy yard objected to an incinerator being added to their burdens.
I’m not sure how to change this situation. It is a larger societal crisis that will take the majority of people to demand change. Today it is only the voices of the desperate parents, frustrated teachers that sound the alarm and cry for justice. This must change.
I was invited by a science teacher Kendall Jensen to visit with her students at Roosevelt High School during my travel to assist the Portland, Oregon community group Neighbors for Clean Air. I have visited classrooms often throughout my work at CHEJ. However, this school, its teachers and the students truly inspired me in a way that I left more energized than when I came.
To understand why, you need to understand the environment. The school built in 1921 houses over 680 students. The students come from a low wealth area with 84% of the students receiving free or reduced lunch program, making it Oregon’s poorest high school. A few of the students live in the shelters and are homeless.
Moreover, the school is the most diverse in the state with the student population consisting of 31% Latino, 30% white, 23% African American, 9% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 4% Native American. In a school population where there are so many negative impacts working against students’ ability to succeed, I walked into a room full of students gathered together to take steps to improve themselves and their environment.
Ms. Kendall Jensen a science teacher at the high school has inspired and motivated the students to explore the environmental problems in the community. As I walked into the classroom where we were having lunch and conversation with students about Love Canal and the work that the neighborhood group, Neighbors for Clean Air, was working on the room was full of energy from eager students. No one was getting extra credit; no one was getting any benefit other than the opportunity to learn more about their neighborhood’s air problems.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also share that this was one of the first beautiful spring days in Portland with the temperature in the 70’s, sunny and clear. Yet students motivated by Kendall and their own curiosity came to learn instead of joining their friends for lunch on this beautiful day. Students listened and learned not just about the local toxic air pollution problems but about taking leadership becoming their own advocates and standing up for what they think is right. This High School is in the direct line of toxic air pollution. It is one of Portland’s schools that rank in the top 5% of all US schools with the most dangerous outdoor air quality in the country.
As a mother of four and someone who has spent time with extraordinary teachers like Kendall, it is clear that when students fail it is not because of a failed teacher. Sometime, especially in schools like Roosevelt High School where students face challenges everyday to survive, it the added toxic environment that directly affects their ability to learn and to pass standardized tests. We know with a level of scientific confidence that toxic chemicals in the environment are directly connected to children’s’ ability to concentrate and learn. Children facing daily toxic lifestyles as it is being referred to now – meaning single family households, poverty, drug influences, poor diet and so on – is exasperated by exposures to real toxic chemicals. Clearly the students in that classroom want to learn, want to succeed and want to take control of their futures. They and the school’s teachers need help; they need a healthy environment, with clean air for their students to succeed. Clean air is something that teachers do not have the ability to change on their own. It is the responsibility of the government to give students a chance by both providing the tools and the healthy environment to make success possible. If the students at this school fail it is more likely the fault of the lack of a healthy environment and not the teachers.
National Commission on the Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining Releases Recommendations Calls for a Moratorium
Today the National Commission on the Health Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining, a group of independent physicians and scientists, released recommendations for actions necessary to ensure the health and safety of the residents of Appalachia who are impacted by mountaintop removal mining. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) commissioned the scientists to review a report prepared by CHEJ that analyzed the existing body of peer-reviewed, scientific studies on the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining on human health. That review led to the recommendations released today. The review and the Commission’s statement are available online
Lois Gibbs took to the stage that day 35 years ago, in the seemingly idyllic community of Love Canal, N.Y., and began to find her voice. Transforming herself from homemaker to hell-raiser, she helped convince then-President Jimmy Carter to come to town in 1980 and remove 900 families from a 21,000-ton toxic dump. Read more.