Dear CEO: How EPA is critical to protect your customers from harmful chemicals

American businesses benefit tremendously from the robust voluntary and regulatory programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These programs are now under threat of massive budget cuts and regulatory roll backs. This blog, focusing on chemical safety, is the latest in a series from EDF + Business highlighting how industry stands to lose from a weakened agency. To prevent these negative consequences, the business community needs to be at the forefront and demand policymakers support the U.S. EPA and its critical mission. 

Recent attacks against EPA for purported regulatory overreach and an anti-business agenda ignore EPA’s crucial work on safer chemicals in the marketplace. EDF + Business works closely with leading companies to address public health and consumer concerns regarding exposure to chemicals. Leading companies rely on smart, science-backed regulations to provide market certainty and protect their industries from bad actors. Threats to underfund and deregulate EPA could jeopardize its continued leadership, which is desperately needed on chemical safety.

In June 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Act was signed into law. The Lautenberg Act was the result of a strong bipartisan effort to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and finally give EPA the means to protect Americans from exposure to toxic chemicals. The Lautenberg Act not only had strong support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, it also had strong support from business: including trade groups like the American Chemistry Council, the Chamber of Commerce and individual companies like BASF and SC Johnson. Why? Because they agreed that empowering EPA to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety – thereby providing a consistent foundation for the safety of chemicals in the marketplace – would not only be good for improving public health, it would be good for business. The EPA’s job is to ensure a clean, healthy environment for all Americans. After years of input and strong bipartisan support, the reformed TSCA gave EPA the necessary tools to protect the public from toxic chemicals.

Business stands to benefit from greater market certainty and consumer confidence under the reformed TSCA. For example, product manufacturers should worry less about investing in the commercialization and usage of a chemical that years later could be found to imperil human health. And if the law meets its expectation, companies may in the long-term have less to fear about the state activity that had picked up when the federal government was not equipped to do its job. This action had been filling the void but led to a patchwork of requirements and regulations that bedeviled companies and left consumers confused about which chemicals in products were safe. The promise of greater market certainty and greater consumer confidence was critical to the Lautenberg Act’s support in Congress. Republican Senate sponsor David Vitter said, “Republicans agree to give EPA a whole lot [of] new additional authority. . . In exchange, that leads to … a common rulebook.”

However, fulfilling the promise of market certainty for industry and greater protection of consumer health depends on a funded and staffed EPA.  If some in industry and their allies in Congress seek to undermine EPA at every turn – whether through budget cuts, anti-regulatory legislation, or stall tactics – they will stymie the promise of the Lautenberg Act and find themselves back at square one. If on the other hand, business, environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans cooperate as they did to get the Lautenberg Act passed – but this time to ensure that EPA is enabled to implement the Lautenberg Act successfully, putting public health first – we could see a new era of chemical safety and innovation in the industry. And finally achieve what business and everyday Americans need.

Effective enforcement of bipartisan legislation is not the only place that the EPA can and must continue to lead. Creating opportunities for business leadership is also important. The innovative Energy Star program, a joint EPA-DOE voluntary energy efficiency program, is a great example of successful collaboration between business and federal agencies.  The EPA is also the architect of another, perhaps lesser known, voluntary corporate leadership program called Safer Choice.

The Safer Choice program is widely used by companies, celebrated by consumer advocacy groups, and helps to reduce the level of exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals. Touted by Consumer Reports as a meaningful tool for shoppers, the Safer Choice program recognizes products whose chemical ingredients are the safest within their function (e.g. solvents). Each product bearing the Safer Choice label – over 2000 today – has been evaluated by EPA scientists to ensure that the product’s ingredients meet the program’s rigorous human health and environmental safety criteria. BASF, Levi Strauss, Clorox, Staples, AkzoNobel, Sun Products are just a few of the 500 companies in the retail supply chain that have made the offering of Safer Choice ingredients or products a key part of their business. Likewise, influential trade associations such as The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association (ISSA), with over 7000 members, and the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), with over 250 companies representing $100 billion in sales annually, have recognized and promoted Safer Choice as a program that can give companies a competitive edge in the marketplace. In a recent op-ed, CSPA called for the new EPA Administrator to support Safer Choice because it “has provided tangible, bottom-line results for consumers, businesses and environmental advocates.”

EPA regulatory enforcement to protect health, and voluntary programs that recognize leading companies, benefit all Americans.

Why Food Safety Plans must consider chemical hazards

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

Since September 17, 2016, most facilities storing, processing, or manufacturing food are required to identify and, if necessary, control potential hazards in food under a Preventive Controls Rule promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pursuant to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 (FSMA). Some foods have had similar requirements in place for years. For example, fruit and vegetable juice processors have been required to have a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plan since the early 2000s.

Record numbers of consumers rate chemicals as their top food safety concern A Food Safety Plan required by FDA is an effective means to respond to this concern and proactively manage risks posed by chemicals instead of reacting to often preventable incidents.

The driving force behind the law and the rules has been reducing the hazard of pathogenic contamination in food. However, the Preventive Controls Rule defines a hazard broadly to include any chemical, whether a contaminant or an additive, that “has the potential to cause illness or injury.”

In this blog, we will explore how the requirements of the Preventive Controls Rule apply to chemical hazards using lead as an example. We chose lead because it is known to cause injury and clearly meets the definition of a hazard. It is well-established that there is no safe level of lead in the blood of children leading to lower IQ and academic achievement, and increases in attention related behaviors. We also know it is all too common in food that toddlers eat. And scientific evidence indicates that much of the lead in food gets into children’s blood.

Four potential sources of lead in the food supply chain

Lead can get into food in different ways including:

  • Absorption from contaminated soil into the roots, leaves, and, possibly, fruit. Soil may be contaminated from past use of lead arsenate pesticides or air deposition from burning leaded gasoline.
  • Contact with contaminated soil during production or harvesting. For example, soil may get into a head of lettuce or on an apple that falls to the ground.
  • Leaching from food handling equipment such as that made from brass or plastic that had lead intentionally added. Until 2014, brass used in drinking water applications could contain up to 8% lead and still be called lead-free. If such brass were used in pumps and valves in food production, leaching of lead into food may occur. Similarly, lead has also been used in PVC plastic as a stabilizer, although it has been phased out in U.S. and Europe. It is important to note that lead is not approved by FDA to be intentionally added to anything that contacts food. If any leaches into food from these sources, the lead would be considered an unapproved food additive. That would render the food adulterated and, therefore, illegal to sell. Note that a supplier’s claim that a material is “food grade” is no guarantee that its use is legal.
  • Contamination of food or food contact materials during processing such as lead from deteriorated paint in the building.

Elements of a Food Safety Plan

Under the Preventive Controls Rule, most facilities storing, processing or manufacturing food must have a written Food Safety Plan that consists of seven items:

  1. A hazard analysis to identify and evaluate known or reasonably foreseeable hazards;
  2. Preventive controls to ensure hazards are significantly minimized or prevented and food will not be adulterated;
  3. Risk-based supply chain program to protect raw materials and ingredients from hazards;
  4. Plan for recalls should they be necessary;
  5. Procedures to monitor preventive controls to assure they are consistently performed;
  6. Corrective action procedures if preventive controls are not properly implemented; and
  7. Verification procedures to validate that preventive controls are adequate and effective, other procedures are being followed, and plan is reevaluated at least once every three years.

The path forward

The FSMA food safety planning requirements put in place a systematic approach for food manufacturers to prevent food safety problems rather than react when they arise. This includes problems that can result from chemical hazards as well as pathogens. The goal is to ensure that consumers are not exposed to adulterated food, whether because it contains “any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health” or it contains an unapproved food or color additive.

A robust food safety plan for lead and other chemicals such as perchlorate would go a long way to protect children and pregnant women from unnecessary exposures to chemicals known to impair brain development, and the businesses from unnecessary risk.

What a Food Safety Plan would say for lead

To comply with the regulations and mitigate risk, the food manufacturer/processor’s written food safety plan is required to identify lead as a hazard if it is reasonably foreseeable that lead could get into food either as a contaminant or from its intentional addition to materials such as brass or plastic used in food handling equipment.

If the plan identifies lead as a hazard, the company must evaluate the risk by assessing (1) the severity of the illness or injury if the hazard were to occur, and (2) the probability that the hazard will occur in the absence of preventive controls. The plan must also develop and implement preventive controls to assure lead levels are significantly minimized or prevented and the food is not adulterated. The controls would likely include:

Next, the company must identify how the preventive controls would be monitored to spot implementation problems, explain how a recall would be conducted if lead were found to exceed the maximum amount identified in the plan or is present as an unapproved food additive, and describe what corrective action would be taken to prevent future recalls.

Finally, the food manufacturer/processor must reanalyze its Food Safety Plan at least every three years or when:

  1. There is a significant change in the activities conducted at the facility that creates a reasonable potential for a new hazard or creates a significant increase in a previously identified hazard;
  2. The food manufacturer becomes aware of new information about potential hazards associated with the food;
  3. An unanticipated food safety problem occurs; or
  4. The food manufacturer finds the preventive control, combination of preventive controls, or the food safety plan as a whole is ineffective.

The Food Safety Plans are not made publicly available, but they must be made available to FDA on request or during an inspection. Potential downstream buyers and retailers most likely can obtain a copy through their own supply chain management programs.

Target moves up the safer chemicals leadership ladder

Yesterday Target announced a new chemicals policy that applies to all products sold in its stores and to its operations. Does this policy have the capability to transform the marketplace by ushering in safer affordable products? Let’s take a look.

In the new policy, Target announces aspirations and time-bounded goals framed in three major areas: transparency, chemical management, and innovation.

On transparency, Target has surpassed its competitors by committing to gain not only full visibility into the chemicals in final products but also into chemicals used in manufacturing operations. Target also takes a leadership stance by aspiring for this full material disclosure across all product categories. This goal is significant and noteworthy, considering the number and variety of products (and associated manufacturing processes) at the average retail store. Target will first implement this transparency goal in “beauty, baby care, personal care and household cleaning formulated products by 2020”. In one drawback, Target is quiet regarding if and how this enhanced supply chain transparency will translate into greater ingredient transparency to consumers.

In the second area, chemical management, Target vows to implement a hazard-based approach to prioritize chemicals. It announces the use of hazard profiles – which characterize the inherent health and environmental hazards of chemicals – in judging which chemicals get added to Target’s new Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs) and Manufacturing Restricted Substances Lists (MRSLs), for future reduction and/or removal. This approach is critical to fostering safer product design and is in line with the philosophy of the Commons Principles for Alternatives Assessment, guiding principles EDF helped develop.  To kick off this work, Target outlines chemical and product specific goals: removal of PFCs and flame retardants from textiles by 2022 and removal of formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors, phthalates, butyl paraben, propyl paraben, and NPEs from the formulated product categories mentioned above by 2020.

Finally, Target commits to directly support safer chemicals innovation. In doing so, Target has shown its understanding that eliminating hazardous chemicals from the consumer product value chain is half the battle; promoting the development or discovery of safer alternatives and enabling their usability in products is as important. Specifically, Target pledges an investment of up to $5 million in green chemistry innovation by 2022.

Target also pledges to publicly share progress against its new policy on an annual basis. We look forward to this regular engagement of the public and hope it will include quantitative measures of progress.

EDF commends Target for establishing a corporate chemicals policy, making it ambitious, and stipulating time-bound goals in specific product categories. Target continues the emphasis on beauty, home and personal care, and baby products that it initiated in 2013 with its Sustainable Product Index. New to the fold is action on safer textiles. In another welcome development, Target has publicly released a key set of chemicals of concern that it plans to remove from these product categories. Interestingly for formulated products, Target’s starting list of chemicals for removal is very similar to the initial set of high priority chemicals Walmart disclosed in 2016. With the two largest retailers in the U.S. not slowing down on safer chemicals leadership, the future of the marketplace looks healthier.  Will other retailers finally follow suit?

New CSPI report investigates "clean label" foods, offers key recommendations

Slightly more than a third of Americans think “clean-label” products are free from artificial ingredients. About a third think it means organic or natural. And roughly a third of Americans don’t know what clean label means. For retailers, restaurants, and food manufacturers, that creates a challenging landscape – and one with few [1] defined guardrails.

Today, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a new report, Clean Labels: Public Relations or Public Health?, that assesses efforts by four restaurants – Chipotle Mexican Grill, Noodles & Company, Panera Bread, and Papa John’s – and nine grocers – Ahold Delhaize (Food Lion, Giant Food, Stop and Shop), Aldi, H-E-B, Kroger, Meijer, Supervalu, Target, Wakefern (ShopRite), and Whole Foods  – to deliver what they interpreted a “clean label” product to mean. The report is well worth the read.

EDF agrees with the CSPI report statement that, “[m]ost substances added to food—even ones with long chemical names—are safe… But some are not, and many have been poorly tested. Indeed, the system intended to ensure the safety of ingredients added to food is deeply flawed.”

We also agree with CSPI that, “To the extent that clean label products are healthier than their non-clean label counterparts, because they are made with actual foods instead of cheap chemical imitations, they deserve praise. Still, the absence of artificial ingredients does not make a food healthy, since it could still be loaded with saturated fat, salt, or added sugars and be largely devoid of dietary fiber and nutrients.” For EDF, clean labels also provide no assurance about other unknown and hazardous food additives such as those used in packaging like perchlorate or that enter food during manufacturing and processing like phthalates.

What should make the report of interest to all engaged in the business of food, from those making it to eating it, are the well-substantiated recommendations for addressing food ingredients in clean-label programs. The CSPI report defines and then assesses the suite of best-in-class clean label efforts by supermarkets and restaurants across three major components:  ingredients covered, food and beverage products covered, and transparency. In general, transparency efforts are strongest, coverage across products is weakest, with ingredient reformulation somewhere in the middle.

The report concludes with a trio of target recommendations and action steps, including:

  • Prioritize public health – Clean-label commitments should be accompanied by meaningful improvements to the nutritional quality of the foods and beverages sold.
  • Comprehensive policies – Lists of prohibited ingredients should apply to all products a restaurant makes or sells, including beverages, and supermarkets should expand clean label policies to all of their private-label brands.
  • Transparency – Restaurants should provide complete ingredient and nutrition information for all menu items, both on-site and on their website, and supermarkets should provide this information on their websites.

Given that natural is an artificial, and often erroneous, synonym for healthy, Clean Labels: Public Relations or Public Health? does just what CSPI intended – provides a useful assessment of clean label efforts that give direction and guidance to companies committed to improving the health and safety of the food they make and sell.

For companies seeking to improve their own food offerings, EDF+Business invites you to visit Behind the Label: A Blueprint for Safer Food Additives in the Marketplace. This online resource details best practices for the five pillars of leadership, offers a model policy and case example, as well as tracking corporate efforts in this space.

[1] “Certified organic” is a federally defined and regulated status.

Panera Bread tackles “clean” food – and means it

Panera BreadLast June, fast-casual restaurant chain Panera Bread announced that it would do away with the remaining artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources in its Panera at Home products. The company expects to make its entire portfolio of nearly 50 grocery items “clean,” meaning free of its “No No List” additives, by the end of 2016.

"Cleaning" up its Panera at Home product line comes in addition Panera’s 2014 commitment  to remove the “No No list” ingredients from all restaurant food offerings within the same time frame and adhere to other criteria of its “Food Policy”.

Panera has consistently run far ahead of their competitors, and they’ve done it in five key areas where companies can lead on chemicals: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informing consumers, public commitment, and product design. Panera set such a good example of leadership in making safer food available to their customers that we’ve developed a case study to showcase Panera’s approach and results to date.

EDF worked with Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, to develop the case study, who offered many insights into their process. For example, on Panera’s decision to expand its commitment to include retail food, Burnett shared that, “Much of the work that we’ve done to simplify recipes in our bakery-cafes has set a standard for Panera at Home products. However, the challenges in the consumer packaged goods space are unique, where artificial additives have long been used to preserve taste and appearance. For us, the answer was often simple. For instance, we decided early on to use refrigeration to help extend shelf life for products like our soups and salad dressings. Where necessary, we’ve relied on natural preservatives – such as rosemary extract – to do the job.”

Panera started that process by looking at every ingredient used in their food and deciding what was essential. Once that determination was made, Panera identified more than 150 food additives to be prohibited in their food after 2016. Of approximately 450 ingredients they manage, roughly one-third needed reformulation.

Out of several hundred suppliers, only one walked away as a result of the new guidelines. In addition, the deep dive into Panera’s sources and potential replacement options also surfaced opportunities for improvement. As a result, many of the suppliers found that they not only strengthened their relationship with Panera, but developed better business offerings for their other customers.

While a limited number of categories still require change – sweets and fountain sodas among them – Panera has overcome many of its toughest challenges. For example, broccoli cheddar soup took 60 revisions to meet customer expectations in taste tests. Many items, from candy pieces to mozzarella cheese, are now differently colored from their predecessors but meet Panera’s clean criteria and customer preferences. Two products – pepperoncini and white pastry cream – have been unable to meet both Panera’s and customers’ expectations, and will likely be removed from the menu come 2017.

Sales numbers would indicate that customers are also pleased. In July 2016, Panera Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich said “Our strong Q2 results reinforce the fact that our strategy is working and our initiatives are performing. Panera is becoming a better competitive alternative with expanded runways for growth. At a time when other restaurant companies are feeling the impact of a slowing consumer environment, we are maintaining our momentum.”

Or as Burnett puts it, “When we meet customer needs and expectations, sales follow.”

Panera is not alone in their efforts, but they are definitely among the leaders. Since Panera announced its comprehensive food policy in June of 2014, more than a dozen major food manufacturers and restaurants have also made public commitments to reduce or eliminate artificial flavors and colors from their brands.

Learn more about how food companies can lead on safer chemicals management with our blueprint for safer food additives, part of EDF’s Behind the Label initiative.

Follow Michelle Harvey at @MMHarvey

 

For FDA reviews of “generally recognized as safe” ingredients, time is not an issue­­

Behind the Label_FIn our work with retailers and food manufacturers, EDF strongly recommends submitting all ingredients for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety review, especially those additives deemed ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS). This includes things such as flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and the like. If an unreviewed ingredient is identified in a recipe, we also recommend that the grocer or manufacturer require the supplier to send the ingredient through an FDA GRAS review.

One question we often get is, “Doesn’t that take a long time?” Quite simply, the answer is no. But some players in the food industry try to perpetuate that myth so they can continue to self-certify safety and bypass FDA’s scrutiny.

GRASIn the 2014 report, “Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States,” more than fifty companies were shown to be deliberately avoiding FDA reviews of 275 chemical additives marketed for food uses. On their own, the companies determined that the substances’ uses were GRAS, without making the safety assessment of the chemical publicly available or submitting it for review by FDA. It’s tough to imagine how it could be “generally recognized” if the safety studies are kept secret.

One reason these companies gave for avoiding the agency’s review: FDA is too slow, resulting in delays in product marketing and sales.

So, are FDA reviews so long as to justify bypassing the agency? Read more

Is Walmart a Leader on Safer Chemicals?

Consumers want to know that the products they buy contain ingredients that are safe for them and their loved ones. EDF has identified five pillars of leadership to help companies meet that demand and in doing so build consumer trust in the products they make and sell. One company that has recently taken major steps to drive safer chemicals and products into the market is Walmart.

In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis. This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Now, Walmart has shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the high priority chemicals.

In our previous blog, we broke down the wealth of information that Walmart has shared. However, to fully evaluate the significance of the numbers, we now look at how well Walmart has done against EDF’s five pillars: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informed consumers, product design, and public commitment.

Read more

Product Ingredients at Walmart Changed for the Better. Really.

It’s whack-a-mole time.

In April, Walmart released their 2016 Global Responsibility Report. In it, they noted a 95% reduction by weight in the approximately ten high priority chemicals in home and personal care products covered by their 2013 Sustainable Chemistry policy. Ninety-five percent is a big number, but the substance – the chemical names, the volumes – was missing.

No longer.

Today, Walmart released the names of those high priority chemicals, with details as to how the reductions were achieved. The chemicals – butylparaben, propylparaben, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, and toluene – will not come as a surprise to most who work on these issues; these chemicals have been called out for action by many for quite some time.

Scale_Blog-Graphic

If this announcement is met like most environmental stories told by corporations, the mole-whacking will commence shortly. WHACK! Why these chemicals and not those? WHACK! What took so long? WHACK! What about everything else? While companies that do nothing will stay in the shadows, those like Walmart trying to drive needed change usually get whacked for what they haven’t done already.

And of course a lot still remains to be done.

But this story is a good one, and Walmart deserves credit for what they have accomplished. Walmart is the one company in the world that could drive drive over 11,500 tons – 23 million pounds – of chemicals out of so much product in less than 24 months.

Read more

Major Strides: Walmart Details Progress on Chemicals

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In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis.

This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction by weight in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Today, Walmart shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the initial high priority chemicals. Let’s unpack this.

Revisiting Walmart’s Sustainable Chemistry Policy

Broadly speaking, Walmart made three commitments in its 2013 policy:

  1. to increase transparency of product ingredients,
  2. to advance safer formulations of products, and
  3. to attain U.S. EPA’s Safer Choice certification [formerly Design for the Environment] of Walmart private brand products

The policy, which went into effect in January 2014, focuses on formulated household cleaning, personal care, and beauty products, sold at Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. stores. A few months after releasing the policy, Walmart published a policy implementation guide that gave suppliers greater specificity as to Walmart’s expectations and, importantly, outlined the quantitative metrics Walmart would use to track and report progress.

How Walmart has fared so far

  1. “Transparency”:

Walmart’s policy requires its suppliers to be more transparent about the ingredients in their products in two ways. First, Walmart requires suppliers to submit “full product formulations” – the names and concentrations of all ingredients in a product – to WERCSmart, a 3rd party- managed product ingredient database. WERCSmart provides the retailer with aggregate information about the types and quantities of chemicals in the products on its shelves without divulging specific product formulation data.

Second, the policy requires suppliers to increase ingredient transparency to consumers by calling for disclosure of product ingredients online starting in 2015. Further, any Priority Chemical found in a product must be disclosed on the product’s packaging starting in 2018. Priority Chemicals (PCs) are Walmart’s designated chemicals of concern, drawn from 16 reputable regulatory and authoritative lists.

To track the first requirement, Walmart determined the number of products whose ingredients are fully accounted for in the WERCSmart database. According to the data, 94% of the product formulations are full formulations. This suggests that the other results Walmart presents today are based on real data.

To track ingredient transparency to consumers, Walmart polled suppliers about their online disclosure practices using the Walmart Sustainability Index, its annual environmental issues survey sent to suppliers. In 2015, 78% of respondents reported they disclose ingredients online for all their products. Walmart also breaks down the responses  in more detailed ways, such as by department.

  1. “Advancing safer formulations of products”:

The bulk of Walmart’s policy focuses on providing safer products to customers by calling for the “reduction, restriction, and elimination” of Priority Chemicals (PCs), and for product reformulations to be undertaken using “informed substitution principles.” Because the list of PCs includes hundreds (if not thousands) of chemicals — as evidenced by Walmart’s reference list of regulatory and authoritative lists used to define its PCs — Walmart focused its suppliers’ attention on a shorter list of High Priority Chemicals (HPCs).

Today, Walmart identified the HPCs as propylparaben, butylparaben, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, triclosan, and toluene. These eight chemicals and chemical classes appear on a number of authoritative lists (e.g. EU REACH Substances of Very High Concern) for their hazardous properties and are worthy of action by Walmart. The revelation of the identities of the chemicals was long-awaited and provides context to the rest of the information Walmart shared today.

To assess the portion of its chemical footprint[1] related to product sales covered by the policy, Walmart has measured progress in two ways: (i) the total weight of HPCs contained in products sold, i.e. pounds of HPCs going out the door, and (ii) frequency of use, i.e. the number of products on store shelves that contain HPCs and the number of suppliers using HPCs in their products. Walmart relied on RetailLink, its internal product inventory database, and WERCSmart, mentioned earlier, to make these calculations. Walmart has also computed and published this data for all Walmart PCs in the covered product categories.

Walmart reports a dramatic reduction in the total weight of PCs and HPCs going out the door. The total weight of HPCs dropped by 95% and PCS by 45%.  The more than doubling of reduction of HPCs suggests that focusing attention on a subset of chemicals accelerated action.

Walmart attributes part of the success to its ability to determine which select set of suppliers used the majority (in pounds) of HPCs. This illustrates the utility of a product ingredient database that can provide aggregate information by supplier while not disclosing proprietary information.

As it relates to progress made in reducing the frequency of use of HPCs, the results were far more modest.  Unfortunately, it appears that suppliers who use HPCs are largely still using them, though the aggregate mass has dropped. Overall, the percent of products containing HPCs dropped by only 3 percentage points (to 16%), while the percent of suppliers using HPCs increased slightly (to 39%). Meanwhile, the percent of products containing any Priority Chemical actually went up one percentage point (to 80%).

So while the weight amount of HPCs, and PCs more broadly, has dropped significantly, there is clearly much more work to be done to achieve complete elimination of these chemicals.

  1. “Safer Choice [formerly Design for the Environment] in private brands”:

Lastly, Walmart committed to increase the number of private brand product offerings bearing Safer Choice certification. As discussed in our recent blog, the Safer Choice Program is a voluntary program implemented by the U.S. EPA that seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to products that are leading the way when it comes to safer ingredients. This is the only commitment for which Walmart has not released quantitative data. The company reports that it has hit snags in making progress against this target but is still committed to the program.

Conclusion

Overall, Walmart has made major strides regarding the commitments set forth in its policy. Equally notable, it has set in place effective systems to measure and track progress over time – an ability that can’t be underestimated.

In our next post, we’ll assess where Walmart’s progress rates against EDF’s five pillars of leadership for safer chemicals in the marketplace.


[1] As defined by the Chemical Footprint Project, a chemical footprint is “the total mass of chemicals of high concern in products sold by a company, used in its manufacturing operations and by its suppliers, and contained in packaging.”

Further Reading:

With Chemical Safety Reform Passed, What’s Next for Companies?

michelle_harveyHistory was made this week. Major environmental legislation was signed into law for the first time in nearly 25 years, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the primary U.S. chemical safety law, and putting in place a new foundation of federal oversight for chemicals being used in the marketplace. It took the right conditions and a lot of hard work – including bold action from the retail and manufacturing sectors to answer consumers’ call for safer products – to get here.

Now, as this new law gets implemented, industry is headed for a new status quo on how chemicals are evaluated and approved for use. What does that mean for those companies already on the safer chemicals journey?

Safer Chemicals in Supply Chains

Fertile Ground for Safer Products

This new piece of legislation –The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – amends for the first time the core provisions of TSCA, originally passed in 1976.  It requires new chemicals to clear a safety bar before entering the market, and mandates safety reviews of all existing chemicals by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many consumers assume this has been occurring all along. If a product has reached a retailer’s shelves, someone must have reviewed its chemical ingredients for safety, right? But this hasn’t been the case. When TSCA was signed into law, it grandfathered in the 64,000 chemicals then in use as “safe.”  The law didn’t mandate review of new chemicals entering the market, either. And it put the entire burden on EPA to find evidence of harm in order to restrict market entry. The updated law will for the first time give EPA the authority and resources to review both new and existing chemicals and make affirmative decisions about their safety, along with new authority to more easily obtain information necessary for conducting these reviews.

Under the Lautenberg Act, EPA will first focus on “high priority” chemicals, such as those classified as known human carcinogens, highly toxic, persistent in the environment or bioaccumlative (able to build up in the bodies of animals). In assessing the safety of chemicals, EPA must consider risks to vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women. EPA can only consider the health and environmental impacts of the chemical—leaving consideration of costs or availability of alternatives to the next step when EPA is determining how to manage a chemical’s risks. The law also puts strong new limits on what information can qualify as ‘confidential business information,’ striking a balance between the public’s right to know about chemicals to which they may be exposed, and proprietary interests in chemical information important, for example, to innovation. Read more