The Campaign for Healthier Solutions’, a chemical test was performed on 165 common products found in the four biggest American discount dollar stores: Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and 99 Cents Only. The results are very alarming.
Researchers found that over 80% of the dollar store products they tested contained a concerning amount of a dangerous chemicals and almost 50% of the products that were tested contained dangerous levels of multiple harmful chemicals! The main culprits are phthalates, polyvinyl chloride plastic (aka PVC), lead, and bisphenol-A (aka BPA).
You might think that you’re saving yourself some smart dollars by opting for the cheaper alternatives of everyday household items sold at two dollar stores but an environmental specialist has warned that you could actually be making your family sick.
From bargain bath mats and kitchen utensils to fun knick-knacks like silly straws and children’s stick-on jewelry, hundreds of products sold at discount retailers have been found to contain toxic levels of harmful metals, plastics, and chemicals that have been linked to cancers and diseases.
A recent study of four major discount retailers in the United States by the Ecology Centre found that 133 out of 164 products tested, including children’s jewelry, floor mats, kitchen utensils and silly straws, contained at least one hazardous chemical ‘above levels of concern’.
Phthalates are a type of man-made chemical plasticizers. They can be used in many kinds of products, including toys, flooring, and even lotions and perfumes. Scientific research has revealed the many threats they pose to families:
- Phthalates have been linked to increased liver size and tumors
- They affect physical development during puberty
- They reduce fertility
- Phthalates are associated with toxins found in adult women’s ovaries
- They can cause premature deliveries and birth defects
- Phthalates lead to children’s learning disabilities, especially ADHD in boys and decreased alertness in girls
‘Based on a number of products that have been recalled over the years and studies which have found the levels of industrial chemicals are rising in younger generations, there’s definitely a history to indicate that they [products at discount stores] could contain chemicals that cause adverse health effect.
‘It depends on the type of chemical, but a lot of these things are absorbed through ingestion and dermal exposure. Kids have a very high hand to mouth ratio and are putting things in their mouth all the time.’
A set of children’s necklaces examined by the study were found to have high levels of bromine, chlorine, and lead. Bromine is known to permanently affect developing brains and present reproduction problems in those exposed to it, while studies have found that chlorine causes cancer as well as thyroid and kidney disease.
Meanwhile, scientists have found that even the smallest amount of lead can affect a child’s ability to learn.
Dozens of other products were also listed as having harmful chemicals, including silly straws which were found to have high levels of chlorine and phthalates which have been linked to birth defects, reduced fertility, cancer, learning disabilities, diabetes, and other health issues, according to the report.
PVC is a dangerous plastic often mixed with other hazardous chemicals, including phthalates, for a variety of uses. This plastic can be easily introduced into your home, because it is widely used in dollar store products such as:
- Reusable Drinking Straws
- Pencil Cases
- Children’s Jewelry
Many studies have pointed out the long-term health effects on employees of PVC plants. Exposure to PVC has been linked to asthma, airway inflammation, and nasal congestion. PVC has also been connected to cases of lung cancer, liver cancer, and skin cancer, for people exposed to the chemical over time.
There is no” safe” amount of exposure to lead, which makes it incredibly shocking to find that lead was found in many popular dollar store products. Dollar store products like toys and dishes are part of the national problem of childhood lead exposure. Lead is proven to harm brain development, lead to behavioral problems, and has other serious health risks. While children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning, it’s also associated with high blood pressure and kidney damage in adults. It’s estimated that lead is the cause of 143 000 deaths every year. Meanwhile, there are non-toxic lead alternatives that could be used in the paints and batteries of dollar store products.
Despite the recent regulation of BPA , (a man-made hormone which has been connected to breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease), it can still make its way into your home, thanks to big brand dollar stores. Dollar store food and beverage containers are often sold with bisphenol-A (BPA) lining the inside of packaging. One study showed that American children show a significantly higher concentration of BPA than adolescents and adults.
These big corporations are taking short-cuts with the health of American families. It’s better to buy quality products from reputable companies. While they might be more expensive, they will last longer, and they won’t cost you or your children a long and healthy life. There are also many ways you can cut down using plastic in your home and take control of what your body is being exposed to.
- Many of the chemicals can be absorbed through ingestion and skin exposure, with children at risk due to their very high hand to mouth ratio
- A study of four discount retailers in the US found 81% of the products tested contained at least one hazardous chemical ‘above levels of concern’
- CEO of Australian College of Environmental Studies, Nicole Bijlsma, said the ACCC’s active chemical inspection program was ‘not good enough’
We are awakening to a dollar-store economy. For years the dollar store has not only made a market out of the detritus of a hyperproductive global manufacturing system, but it has also made it appealing — by making it amazingly cheap. Before the market meltdown of 2008 and the stagnant, jobless recovery that followed, the conventional wisdom about dollar stores — whether one of the three big corporate chains (Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree) or any of the smaller chains (like “99 Cents Only Stores”) or the world of independents — was that they appeal to only poor people. And while it’s true that low-wage earners still make up the core of dollar-store customers (42 percent earn $30,000 or less), what has turned this sector into a nearly recession-proof corner of the economy is a new customer base. “What’s driving the growth,” says James Russo, a vice president with the Nielsen Company, a consumer survey firm, “is affluent households.”
The affluent are not just quirky D.I.Y. types. These new customers are people who, though they have money, feel as if they don’t, or soon won’t. This anxiety — sure to be restoked by the recent stock-market gyrations and generally abysmal predictions for the economy — creates a kind of fear-induced pleasure in selective bargain-hunting. Rick Dreiling, the chief executive of Dollar General, the largest chain, with more than 9,500 stores, calls this idea the New Consumerism. “Savings is fashionable again,” Dreiling told me. “A gallon of Clorox bleach, say, is $1.44 at a drugstore or $1.24 at a grocery store, and you pay a buck for it at the Dollar General. When the neighbors come over, they can’t tell where you bought it, and you save anywhere from 20 to 40 cents, right?”
Financial anxiety — or the New Consumerism, if you like — has been a boon to dollar stores. Same-store sales, a key measure of a retailer’s health, spiked at the three large, publicly traded chains in this year’s first quarter — all were up by at least 5 percent — while Wal-Mart had its eighth straight quarterly decline. Dreiling says that much of Dollar General’s growth is generated by what he calls “fill-in trips” — increasingly made by wealthier people. Why linger in the canyons of Wal-Mart or Target when you can pop into a dollar store? Dreiling says that 22 percent of his customers make more than $70,000 a year and added, “That 22 percent is our fastest-growing segment.”
This growth has led to a building campaign. At a time when few businesses seem to be investing in new equipment or ventures or jobs, Dreiling’s company announced a few months ago that it would be creating 6,000 new jobs by building 625 new stores this year. Kiley Rawlins, vice president for investor relations at Family Dollar, said her company would add 300 new stores this year, giving it more than 7,000 in 44 states.
And yet, how do dollar stores expand and make impressive returns, all the while dealing in an inventory that still largely retails for a few dollars? How does a store sell four AA batteries for $1? In part this market takes advantage of the economy degrading all around it. When I asked Dreiling about the difference in the cost of RadioShack batteries, he said that “RadioShack is probably in a better spot in the same shopping center,” while Dollar General might be in a “C+, B site.” RadioShack pays the high rent, while the dollar stores inhabit a “no-frills box.”
The dollar-store combination has more to it than low store rents and really cheap products. The labor force needed to run a dollar store is a tiny, low-wage staff. Do the math of Dreiling’s announcement: 6,000 jobs divided by 625 stores equals about 10 jobs per store.
Perhaps this is all merely our grandparents’ Woolworth’s five-and-dime updated by inflation to a dollar and adapted, like any good weed, to distressed areas of the landscape. But a new and eroding reality in American life underwrites this growing market.