I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Joe, a manager at the Target retail store in Lexington, as part of the national Mind the Store campaign. Over the last several months, Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and several other large retailers of personal care and cleaning products have been asked to "mind the store" by offering products without toxic chemicals and requiring manufacturers to accurately label ingredients.
Like many Americans, Joe was unaware of the dangers lurking in common household products, and seemed skeptical. We like to believe that products are safe for our families.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Joy Renfro, a professor of nursing at Eastern Kentucky University and I shared scientific and health information about the links between chemicals in common household products and diseases such as cancer, obesity, autoimmune disease, infertility, etc.
Joe was willing to pass our information on to his general manager with the hope that it would reach the CEO of Target. We thank Joe for his time and attention.
Our meeting at Target was one of many taking place across the country. Over 55,000 letters from consumers have been sent to Target asking the CEO to phase out the top "hazardous 100" toxic chemicals and to require vendors to provide accurate labeling.
As a result of this campaign, Wal-Mart recently announced that it will, indeed, phase out 10 of the most toxic chemicals from their products and require stricter labeling from their manufacturers. This is both a small step and a giant leap — 10 toxic chemicals is better than none, but far from 100. And that 100 is a tiny drop in the chemical stew of over 80,000 chemicals registered in the U.S., of which only a tiny percentage has been tested for their effects on human health.
Ultimately, we can't just shop our way out of such a huge problem. It takes action from consumers, retailers, manufacturers and state and federal governments to make sure our kids, families and communities are not unnecessarily exposed to toxins.
Seemingly small efforts can add up to big change. Thanks to the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (Kentucky's Mind the Store partner group) and many dozens of other campaign partner groups, we have effected change in at least one major corporation.
Like Wal-Mart, we hope Target and other retailers will follow suit. Earlier this year, as a result of campaigns targeting Procter & Gamble and other large manufacturers of common household products, P&G announced it will phase out the use of Triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial products that has been linked to hormone disruption and the creation of bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics; and formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical found in everything from baby shampoo to furniture polish.
Small steps are being taken, but the strides are lengthening, and thanks to increased consumer awareness and market pressure we may soon be running toward a safer and healthier nation.
Beth Ruggles is community educator of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.