Trend spotted: Home Depot is the latest retailer to drop these harmful chemicals

Last week The Home Depot published an update to their Chemical Strategy that expands their commitments to now cover household cleaning chemical products. They are asking suppliers to remove and exclude nine chemicals from these products by 2022. This commitment builds on their strategy first published in October 2017, which targeted chemicals of concern in flooring, carpet, insulation, and paints. Adding cleaning products to that portfolio builds on The Home Depot’s commitment to tackle products that impact the quality of indoor air. This commitment is important considering we spend 80% of our time indoors and many of the chemicals we are exposed to inside are linked to the development of asthma, among other health issues.

The Home Depot’s updated strategy is a move in the right direction for cleaning products. While they previously highlighted environmentally preferred products through the Eco Options® certification program, this commitment will impact all cleaning products sold in stores and online. This means more consumers will be able to bring safer products into their homes.

Retailers are increasingly aligning to eliminate or reduce these 9 harmful chemicals

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Why companies should pay attention to FDA’s new push on heavy metals in food

This blog was co-authored with Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant, and Michelle Harvey, Senior Consultant at the Environmental Defense Fund.

In May 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN) announced it had “established a Toxic Elements Working Group whose mission in part is to develop a strategy for prioritizing and modernizing the Center’s activities with respect to food/toxic element combinations using a risk-based approach.” FDA set a goal of limiting lead “to the greatest extent feasible.”

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What Nicholas Kristof missed about toxics in our bodies

As a consumer health expert, I was glued to Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times op-ed, “What poisons are in your body?” Kristof has covered the dangers of toxic chemicals for years and instituted lifestyle changes to limit exposure to chemicals that worry him most. Among his top concerns are endocrine disruptors – which alter hormones and are associated with lower sperm counts in men, for example. Despite his knowledge and intentional lifestyle changes, his recent blood test results still came back with high levels of a variety of chemicals. Wow.

Kristof invites readers to take a survey identifying the common products they have used in the last month. The survey results tell you what chemicals you have been exposed to through these products as well as the health hazards associated with each chemical. It’s important that Kristof continues to shine a light on the issues of hazardous chemicals in products we use every day and the lack of oversight on the safety of these chemicals.

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Food industry leaders just set new guidelines for use of specific chemicals in food packaging

By Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director at Environmental Defense Fund and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Last week, we spent two days at a Chemical Watch food packaging conference with manufacturers and suppliers trying to better understand the process for bringing innovative products to market. They learned what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other countries will demand and what challenges they need to anticipate. While regulatory aspects are complicated, the attendees often talked about the difficulties of navigating requirements from companies and reacting to consumer expectations about packaging chemicals.

These concerns were timely. On March 9, the Food Safety Alliance for Packaging (FSAP), a part of the Institute of Packaging Professionals, released “Food Packaging Product Stewardship Considerations,” a set of best practices. This marks the first public recognition by a sector of the packaging industry of the expectations and demands from food manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.

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Industry leaders doubled down on safer ingredients in 2017 – here’s the list

In 2017, we saw a surge of commitments and action to disclose product ingredients to the public. Notably, more companies disclosed ingredients in cleaning products and fragrances — a major step towards greater transparency in a sector with little disclosure.

Retailer and brand commitments on safer ingredients are driven by a variety of factors, namely new state regulations and growing consumer demand for improved transparency and safer products. As more companies join the movement to set public commitments, we are encouraged that the trend will continue.

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New retailer ranking on safer chemicals reveals major gaps between leaders and laggards

On Monday, the Mind the Store campaign released their second annual review of retailer action on toxic chemicals: Who’s Minding the Store? – A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals. The report card evaluates 30 retailers across a variety of product sectors, including cosmetics, electronics, baby products, and grocery. How are retailers doing? Let’s take a closer look.

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Why businesses and state governments aren’t waiting for federal action on chemicals transparency

As a Trump Administration appointee tries to dismantle EPA’s credibility as a guardian of public health and the environment, other actors have been stepping up. We recently examined retailers leading the way on removing chemicals of concern from the marketplace – but there has also been significant activity from state governments and companies to increase transparency about the chemicals we are exposed to every day and to empower consumers to make informed decisions about their product purchases.

Regulatory steps in the right direction

Government activity has recently focused on cleaning products, for good reason as the contents of these products are typically the biggest mystery for consumers.

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Walmart makes bold new commitments around safer products

Credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

Today, Walmart updated their ambitious Sustainable Chemistry Policy on Consumables, which to-date has resulted in a 96% reduction in the weight of High Priority Chemicals. The new commitments set a bold goal of reducing Walmart’s chemicals footprint by 10% – over 55 million pounds of priority chemicals – a historic move.

Reducing chemicals of concern from products is a major interest for consumers. Modern science increasingly shows that certain chemicals prevalent in products can impact our health. Walmart’s renewed commitment to drive safer products onto store shelves is a laudable effort. Read more

No one-hit wonder: Walmart reinforces its commitment to safer chemicals

Walmart made two big moves last week to reinforce its commitment to leadership on safer chemicals. In 2013 Walmart sent a major demand signal for safer chemicals through the supply chain – issuing its Sustainable Chemistry Policy that covered 700 suppliers and over 90,000 cleaning, personal care, and cosmetics products on its shelves. The policy called for greater ingredient transparency and the reduction and elimination of chemicals harmful to human and environmental health, starting with eight prevalent chemicals of concern. Last week, Walmart released its latest results following up on these commitments and became the first retailer to participate in the Chemical Footprint Project annual survey (and the second major retailer to become a CFP signatory).

Walmart’s participation in the Chemical Footprint Project is a new indicator of its continued commitment to safer products

The Chemical Footprint Project is an initiative to benchmark how effectively companies are managing the chemicals in their products and supply chains. As I mentioned in a previous blog, it’s a way for investors and large purchasers to assess which firms are carrying heavy chemical risk and which ones are demonstrating competitive leadership in response to growing demand for safer products. So far, 24 companies, including Walmart, participate in this program – sending a clear signal to their suppliers, investors, and consumers that chemicals management is material to business success. Leaders identified in the CFP survey show that adopting and enforcing policies and measuring progress are key to reducing chemicals of concern.

Progress on its ground-breaking policy

Also last week, Walmart quietly released its second annual Sustainable Chemistry Policy report, showing progress on its policy to eliminate priority chemicals. The chemicals of concern were drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and other authoritative lists – starting with eight High Priority Chemicals.

Table 1: Walmart's High Priority Chemicals


A chemical inventory is the first step in meeting a commitment to reduce your chemical footprint

Before jumping into the results, let's review why this public disclosure of results is important. If you can't measure something, you can't improve it effectively. Walmart’s public reporting of quantitative data shows that it is serious about measuring its chemical footprint and being transparent about it. Walmart uses aggregate chemical inventory information across and within the departments under the policy to track progress.

Clear, meaningful metrics to track progress are the next step

Walmart tracks progress by looking at both weight volume – pounds of chemicals going out the door – and ubiquity – number of suppliers using these chemicals and the number of products in which they are using them. Both are important indicators of the prevalence of these chemicals in our world. Last year, Walmart achieved a 95% reduction in its High Priority Chemicals (HPCs) at Walmart US stores, equivalent to 23 million lbs. Since then, another 372,230 lbs have been removed – a 30% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 96% drop since the policy began in 2014. Similar reductions continue to happen at Walmart's Sam's Club stores:  another 75,629 lbs have been eliminated, a 53% drop compared to the 2015 weight volume and a 68% drop compared to 2014. The second year results also reaffirm that a concerted effort to reduce a select set of priority chemicals, i.e. HPCs, drives results faster. Overall usage of Walmart Priority Chemicals continues to decrease (at Walmart US stores), but not nearly at the rate of that of Walmart HPCs.

Figure 1: The cumulative weight volume reduction of High Priority Chemicals since 2014 has been over 23.6 million lbs and over 164,000 lbs for Walmart and Sam’s Club respectively.

Walmart’s public disclosure also shows that the company isn’t afraid to share where performance is lagging

Though overall weight volume of the HPCs continues to drop, their ubiquity continues to be a challenge. Both the number of products (i.e. UPCs) containing the HPCs and the number of suppliers using them continues to drop, at both Walmart US and Sam’s Club stores, but at a rate slower than the weight volume reduction.

Figure 2: Current percent of products (or UPCs) containing and suppliers who using High Priority Chemicals in products, along with the respective percentage point changes since 2014.

The tools for success

In the end, Walmart continues to make progress against its policy as demonstrated through real data. Beyond data, what else contributes to Walmart‘s success?

  • Clear targets
  • Driving action through the business (where relationships between buyers and suppliers stress the importance of the commitments)
  • Public accountability

With new notable commitments popping up from other major retailers like Target and CVS, we hope to see similar tracking and reporting of meaningful results both directly and through the Chemical Footprint Project survey.

FURTHER READING: See EDF’s previous analysis of Walmart’s first year results here and here.


Boma Brown-West is Senior Manager of Consumer Health at EDF + Business. You can follow her on Twitter for insights and analysis on safer chemicals leadership in the supply chain and subscribe to her Behind the Label newsletter here.

Companies can and should do more to eliminate lead in food – our kids’ health depends on it

As a parent, environmental professional and wife of an accomplished chef, I spend a lot of time thinking about food and how to make the best choices when it comes to feeding my family. That’s why EDF’s report detailing lead in food has me so concerned.

Usually I think about, and maybe even felt guilty at times, about the nutritional content and environmental impacts of the food I choose, but it never occurred to me to worry that the food itself could be contaminated with lead.  And, let’s just be clear – there is no scientific evidence of a safe level of lead in blood. Lead can harm a child’s developing brain, potentially leading to learning problems, lower IQ, as well as cause behavioral problems.

While I knew that the major exposures to lead come from lead-based paint, contaminated soil and dust, and drinking water, I didn’t realize that in order to have a comprehensive plan to protect my child from harm, contaminated food should also be on my list.

According to EDF’s analysis of FDA data from 2003 to 2013, 20% of baby food and 14% of other food sampled contained detectable levels of lead. The baby food items with the highest rates of detection include grape, mixed fruit, apple, and pear juices, sweet potatoes and carrots, arrowroot cookies, and teething biscuits.

The following chart details the percentage of various food samples where lead was detected.

There are two key takeaways from this chart.

  1. Some product types have a high percent of lead detection across the samples, while other product types have much smaller percentages.
  2. While many samples of products have detected levels of lead, every category has some products with no detectable levels of lead. This suggests that lead in food is a problem with a solution.

So, what is a food company to do?

  • Step 1 – Set a goal of less than 1 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in baby food and other foods marketed to young children
  • Step 2 – Test for lead
  • Step 3 – Identify the source of contamination – is it the raw ingredients, something the food is exposed to during processing, or something else?
  • Step 4 – Take steps to eliminate the contamination
  • Step 5 – Remain vigilant – keep testing and improving until the contamination is eliminated

What can you do?

Ask companies if they regularly test their products for lead; and whether they ensure that there is less than 1 ppb of lead in the food and juices they sell. If they don’t, let them know it is a high priority concern for you.

I’m about to have another baby, and I hope that by the time baby number two is here and ready to eat solids, food companies have taken the steps necessary to eliminate lead. That way, I can spend more time focusing on eating great food and less time worrying about if it’s  contaminated.