Maine parents protest by returning products containing toxic chemicals to Walgreens in Portland, Bangor

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

April 17th, 2014 

Two dozen parents, pregnant women, and medical professionals showed up at Walgreens drug stores in Portland and Bangor, April 16th, to return a variety of products that contain high levels of the chemical phthalates, according to new testing results released today by HealthyStuff.org. Participants called on the national pharmacy chain to do more to keep these dangerous chemicals off store shelves.

“Walgreens and other giant retailers have an important role to play in making everyday products safer,” stated Emma Halas O’Connor, Coordinator for the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine. “We need lawmakers to set science-based standards and we also need large companies like Walgreens to mind the store and use their market power to increase demand for safer alternatives. No child should be exposed to the hormone havoc of phthalates while they play with their favorite toy or get ready for their next day at school.”

Phthalates are known to cause serious health effects, including abnormal development of male sex organs; learning and behavior problems; diabetes; increased rates of asthma and allergies; and greater risk of prostate and testicular cancer. They are commonly used to soften vinyl plastic and are routinely added to hundreds of everyday products and building materials found in the home, including lunch boxes, kids’ backpacks, school supplies, rain coats and boots, shower curtains, tablecloths, floor tiles and wall covering. Phthalates are also a common ingredient of “fragrance” found in many cosmetics, lotions and other personal care products.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of a healthy pregnancy and childhood,” stated Dr. Peter Millard, a family physician from Bangor. “Phthalates are hormone disruptors that interrupt the inner workings of our body’s endocrine system. They readily escape from products and enter the human body through breathing, eating and skin contact. When it comes to children’s health, doctors like me would much rather prevent disease rather than treat it after the fact. Walgreens can help us keep Maine kids healthy.”

Participants in the Walgreens actions include a number of Mainers who were recently tested for phthalates as part of a bio-monitoring report entitled, “Hormones Disrupted: Toxic Phthalates in Maine People” in which all 25 participants were found to have detectable levels of phthalates in their bodies – some at levels far exceeding national averages.

“I’m here today because I now know first-hand that as things currently stand, none of us can avoid exposure to phthalates. I’m concerned because there is no level of phthalates that has been guaranteed safe. I’m concerned for the children who bear the brunt of the burden and for the workers who make or handle these products every day,” said Don Berry, an electrician from Sumner and president of the Maine AFL-CIO, who was a particant. “I’m here today to urge Walgreens to step up and be a leader in getting phthalates off their shelves.”

The two Maine Walgreens events were part of a 45-store coordinated action in the national “Mind the Store” campaign. Since April 2013, over 60,000 customers have sent Walgreens letters urging the company to create an action plan on toxic chemicals.

“No child should face the challenges my son is facing because they were needlessly exposed to toxic chemicals in everyday household products,” said Tracy Gregoire, the mother of a son with special needs and an educator for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. “New testing shows that some products sold at Walgreens contain extremely high levels of phthalates. So we’ll be returning these items and asking Walgreens to mind the store.”

Scientists at HealthyStuff.org tested 44 products from Walgreens, ranging from household cleaning products, school supplies, pet toys and other consumer products. About 30% (13 of 44) of the products tested contained high chlorine levels, suggesting they may be made of the toxic plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). Of the 13 vinyl products screened for phthalates, all 13 tested positive for regulated phthalates at levels greater than 10,000 ppm.

“As an individual, I can’t shop my way out of this problem,” said Katie Mae Simpson, a mother of two from Portland who was also part of the Hormones Disrupted study. “Believe me, I have tried. My test results show that my body is burdened with phthalates despite my family’s best efforts to avoid them. This is not okay. It is only with the help of policy-makers and businesses that we can make our families safer by reducing exposure to phthalates and other toxic chemicals in everyday products.”

Examples include:

· A vinyl shower curtain contained 18.2 percent of the phthalate DEHP

· A vinyl 3-ring binder contained 14.3 percent of the phthalate DINP

· Vinyl cleaning gloves contained 37.5 percent of the phthalate DINP

· A blue handbag purse contained 4.5 percent of the phthalate DEHP

· An iPod/iPhone/iPad charger contained 32.7 percent of the phthalate DINP

“Walgreens is the largest drug store chain and the fourth largest retailer in the country,” added Halas-O’Connor. “If Walgreens demands more information and safer alternatives on phthalates, the market will respond. We are calling on Walgreens to work with their suppliers to reduce, eliminate, or safely substitute phthalates from their product line.”

Following the press conferences, participants returned their products that had tested high for phthalates and delivered a letter outlining their request for leadership and action to each of the store managers.

A petition is now being circulated that would initiate rule-making before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on the reporting of phthalates in consumer products. The rule would elevate four phthalates to “Priority Chemical” status under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act and require manufacturers to report on which of their products sold in Maine contains the priority phthalates.

Maine lawmakers have a history of bipartisan support for policies designed to protect children from exposure to dangerous chemicals. Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act was passed almost unanimously in 2008, and has since been supported and updated by wide margins.