Report: Restaurant chains lag on toxic chemicals, while 21 retailers make progress to protect consumers

Amazon, Rite Aid, and Walgreens are “most improved” in annual ranking of retailer chemical safety efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A report released today reveals that major retail companies are making slow but meaningful progress at improving the chemical safety of the products, food, and packaging they sell, but nearly half of those scored — including every restaurant chain evaluated — have failed to take any public measures to help eliminate toxic chemicals from the products they carry. The third annual Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals evaluated and graded the chemical policies and practices of 40 of the largest North American retailers, including grocery and fast food chains, as part of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign.

Four retailers received the highest grades for their work to protect customers from toxic products and packaging, setting the pace for the industry: Apple (A+), Target (A), Walmart (A-) and IKEA(A-). In 2018, WalgreensRite Aid, and Amazon were ranked “most improved” with all three companies announcing sweeping chemical safety policies over the past two months.

Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and report co-author said, “Companies can prevent harm and protect public health by taking common sense steps to phase out toxic chemicals in everyday products. Retailers have an important role to play – they have both the power and the moral responsibility to eliminate and safely replace toxic chemicals to ‘mind the store.’ They should stop letting chemical corporations put public health at risk.”

Nearly half of retailers evaluated for Who’s Minding the Store? received a grade of F for failing to announce policies or publicly report progress to assess, reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals in the products or packaging they sell. However, year-over-year results reveal that retail chains have improved their chemical safety efforts after receiving poor grades on the Retailer Report Card. 72 percent of the 29 retailers evaluated in both 2017 and 2018 improved their scores by taking measures such as establishing new chemical safety policies, banning chemicals of concern from private-label brands, and expanding their chemical bans to new products.

Chain restaurants were analyzed for the first time this year and significantly lagged behind other retailers in reducing chemical hazards. These companies have been slow to announce chemicals policies and to publicly address toxic chemicals, such as phthalates and PFAS, in packaging and other food contact materials. Six fast food chains were evaluated representing 10 brands, with all companies earning Fs: Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Panera, Pizza Hut, Popeyes, Taco Bell, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Subway.

Other retail sectors with poor performance include dollar stores (average grade of F), department stores (F), beauty shops (D-) and office supply stores (D-).

For a full list of the evaluated companies and their grades, and to contact companies to demand chemical safety improvements, visit

“Learning and developmental disabilities now affect 1 in 6 children. Over a quarter of these disabilities are linked to toxic chemical exposures,” said Tracy Gregoire, Learning Disabilities Association of America’s Healthy Children Project Coordinator. “Prenatal and early childhood exposure to harmful chemicals in consumer products and food packaging can lead to life-long impacts and chronic health conditions. Major retailers have both the opportunity and the responsibility to become industry leaders by keeping toxic chemicals out of products and packaging to protect children’s minds and bodies.”

Jose Bravo, Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, said “Once again, dollar stores fall among the worst national retailers when it comes to protecting customers and our families from toxic chemicals–and none of them have done much to ease product safety concerns in over a year. People of color and the poor depend on these discount retail chains, and our families deserve safe and nontoxic products just as much as any other family. While dollar stores continue to lag behind other retailers on toxic chemical safety, we continue to worry that our children and vulnerable populations are getting more than our share of toxic chemical exposures.”

“The food we buy should nourish us, not expose us to toxic chemicals from packaging and processing,” warned Mike Belliveau, Executive Director of Environmental Health Strategy Center and co-author of the report. “Restaurant chains are serving up a recipe for poor health by failing to slash the use of toxic chemicals in food packaging and other food contact materials. Toxic industrial chemicals like phthalates and PFAS don’t belong in the food we eat. Consumers expect a lot more leadership from food retailers in getting toxic chemicals out of the food supply chain.”

To evaluate retailers’ policies, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the Environmental Health Strategy Center, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Getting Ready for Baby campaign, Environmental Defence (Canada), and Safer States collected and reviewed publicly available information about corporate safer chemicals programs, and shared draft findings with retailers to provide them an opportunity to review the conclusions, disclose additional information, and make new public commitments toward safer chemicals as of November 9, 2018. Companies selected for evaluation were among the top forty North American retailers by sales or commanded the largest market share in one of twelve major retail sectors. Full methodology details are available at

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Safer Chemicals Healthy Families leads a nationwide coalition of organizations and businesses working to safeguard American families from toxic chemicals. The group’s Mind the Store campaign challenges big retailers to eliminate toxic chemicals and substitute them with safer alternatives.

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By Sandra Curtis

When the FDA draft report for peer review came out on Feb. 26, 2018, claiming that BPA was safe, the Endocrine Society and academic scientists were up in arms. Not only did they dispute the findings, but they challenged the release of a draft for peer review prior to the peer-review process occurring.

“It is premature to draw conclusions based on the release of one component of a two-part report,” said Endocrine Society spokesperson Laura N. Vandenberg, Ph.D. “The National Toxicology Program draft report released Friday included the results of one government study with a partial data set and has yet to undergo peer review.”

Notwithstanding the curious nature of the release, this EPA position is not new. In fact, it’s long-standing. The EPA has remained consistent in its view since its initial draft study in 2008 to its publication of literature reviews from 2011 to 2014.

Vanderberg’s work is at the heart of the challenge to this EPA draft for peer review. Her focus has been on how traditional toxicology assays have failed to identify a number of ubiquitous endocrine disruptors, and how current risk assessment practices can be improved in both the study of and the regulation of this class of chemicals.

Her research has concentrated on how low doses of endocrine disrupting plasticizers—chemicals that can alter how cells and tissues grow during critical windows of development can lead to adult diseases such as cancer, obesity, and infertility. The FDA draft directly targets the conclusions of her work.

Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC) recently concluded a pilot study, ReThink Plastic, funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Fund (CBCRF), in partnership with Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS), a project of The Public Health Institute. The results of the pilot’s intervention showed that participants changed their behavior after learning of the risks of exposure to chemicals like BPA that mimic estrogens in the body.

Some readers may be familiar with how long the tobacco industry fought against the health hazards of smoking. Casting doubt on the science continued for decades despite the 1964 Surgeon General’s report highlighting the deleterious health consequences of tobacco use.

EWG’s Senior Policy Analyst Sonya Lunder wrote an article in 2015 which clearly explained the conflict. She describes the fight over BPA safety fundamentally as a fight over the science of endocrine disruption. These facts have not changed today:

  • The strong political influence of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance.
  • The fact that the science of endocrine disruption has upended many traditional scientific notions of toxicity in which even low concentrations of these chemicals can have effects on the developing brain, nervous system, and reproductive systems of people, laboratory animals, and wildlife.
  • In the 1996 publication of Our Stolen Future, Theo Colborn and her colleagues alerted the public to a growing body of evidence demonstrating the widespread exposure to a dangerous mixture of chemicals that changed hormone signaling, with possibly ominous effects on the health of humans and other animals. They called for urgent investigation into the effects of these chemicals, which led to advanced research methods that documented that hormone-disrupting chemicals were responsible for subtle but permanent changes in the brains, behavior, and reproductive systems of humans and animals, even in concentrations of a few parts per billion.
  • The FDA continues to be unwilling to accept the massive body of evidence based on the work of Colborn et al. They still focus on traditional methods of studying chemicals for toxicity which focus on the amount of a chemical that will cause gross organ and tissue damages, or imitate cancer, and work backwards to a supposedly non-toxic—non-poisonous—amount.
  • What Colborn and her colleagues found was that chemicals that might kill cells at high doses, behaved paradoxically at low doses, stimulating cell growth.
  • In 2009, the Endocrine Society, summed up the new and surprising insights into endocrine-disrupting chemicals: “…even infinitesimally low levels of exposure—indeed, any level of exposure at all—may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window. Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than higher doses.”
  • Research linking endocrine disrupters to abnormal cell changes and cell growth led to connections between these chemicals and cancer, early puberty, infertility, prostate enlargement, and other reproductive system disorders, obesity, cardiovascular damage, brain function, and many other ills.

Given the FDA’s reliance on old scientific methods, it’s not news that the agency won’t budge from its position that BPA is not toxic at the levels to which humans are exposed in everyday life.

What is most curious is why the FDA, a partner in a multi-year, multi-million-dollar research initiative called CLARITY-BPA with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences along with more than a dozen academic researchers, would upstage its own research findings and not follow accepted peer-reviewed science protocols.

The CLARITY project’s aim was for a comprehensive evaluation of the reproductive and developmental effects of BPA in laboratory animals. Its focus was to evaluate sensitive markers of hormone disruption to the breast, prostate, brain, and other body systems and to scrutinize the effects of the chemical at range of different doses.

The current FDA announcement is the draft result of The CLARITY group’s research. It’s based on the results of a comprehensive two-year rodent study examining the potential effects of BPA on health over 90-days in 2014. The study concluded that no low dose effects of BPA were found.

However, Lunder notes methodological problems from the pilot study where control animals were unintentionally exposed to low doses of BPA. That would make drawing any conclusions about the safety of everyday BPA exposures for Americans impossible to assess. Frederick S. vo
m Saal’s 2006 report describes the complexity of issues with human versus animal studies on BPA, supporting the health risks from low BPA exposure for humans.

Advanced research methods have documented that hormone-disrupting chemicals were responsible for subtle but permanent changes in the brains, behavior, and reproductive systems of humans and animals, even in concentrations of a few parts per billion.

Why has the FDA issued a safety announcement based on a flawed, short-term study before the massive CLARITY-BPA study has been completed? One can only guess, but Lunder believes the science of endocrine disruption has become a political issue similar to the previous fight over the health hazards of tobacco. We know where that led. (To learn more, read Merchants of Doubt.)

Why does it matter?  

It matters because BPA is an environmental health risk that can be avoided. In health care, the common thread is to do no harm and to err on the side of safety. That means reducing exposure risks to chemicals that disrupt natural body functions. In the case of BPA, such risk has been demonstrated across the scientific literature. However, the results are complicated and there is a pre-existing Catch-22. Human subject protocols cannot do the same kind of testing that is allowed with animals and hence, human experimental studies are not ethically possible. Naturally the producers of those chemicals don’t want consumers to take this position, but we all have a choice.

As PPC’s lead research investigative partner on the ReThink Plastic pilot study, Dr. Barbara Cohn notes, “This pilot study demonstrates that a short term education program can significantly influence behavior change to reduce exposure to this class of chemicals when participants change their habits for food preparation, selection, and storage habits.”

More testing needs to be done, however, consumer awareness is critically important to force change by manufacturers. It is noteworthy that In many instances, companies have already transitioned away from BPA, substituting another form of bisphenol, BPS. However, consumers beware—BPS has also been shown to be just as hazardous.

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New research published by the University of Missouri-Columbia shows the negative effects of chemical BPA on painted turtles’ brains. In previous studies, researchers determined that BPA can disrupt sexual function and behavior in painted turtles. In the new study, painted turtle eggs were incubated at male-permissive temperatures. Those exposed to BPA developed deformities to testes that held female characteristics. The new study went further by identifying the genetic pathways that were altered as a result of BPA exposure during early development.

“Turtles are known as an ‘indicator species’ because they can be used as a barometer for the health of the entire ecosystem,” reports Science Daily on the study. “By understanding the possible effects endocrine disrupting chemicals have on turtles, researchers might be able to understand the possible effects such compounds have on other species.”

Turtles are known as an ‘indicator species’ because they can be used as a barometer for the health of the entire ecosystem.

BPA is a chemical found in a wide variety of consumer products from food storage containers to cash register receipts and even beverage cans. BPA has been linked with increased risk for cardiovascular disease, breast and prostate cancer, early puberty, obesity, diabetes, infertility, erectile dysfunction, and learning and attention-related disorders.

A review of more than 800 studies published in the journal Endocrine Reviews shows that even extremely small doses of BPA can be toxic. The study authors conclude that due to the effects of low doses of hormone-disrupting chemicals, “fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.”

Read more on how chemicals in plastic impact animal and human health. 

Read the facts about plastic pollution. 

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Six popular BPA-free alternatives all mimic estrogen in breast cancer cells; three of them more so than BPA itself, according to new research.

By Brian Bienkowski

Three chemicals used as BPA alternatives mimic estrogen and promote breast cancer cell growth more than the controversial compound they’re designed to replace, according to new research.

The study, preprinted online before it goes through the peer-review process, is the first study to test these six bisphenol-A (BPA) alternatives in various breast cancer cells and compare their level of estrogen mimicking against one another.

The findings suggest that “BPA-free” may mean very little for consumers trying to protect their health from endocrine disrupting chemicals.

These substitutions “are turning on gene pathways involved in cancer, and they’re doing that in a human cancer cell,” said Frederick vom Saal, a University of Missouri-Columbia professor who studies BPA but was not part of the new study.

Scientists for years have warned about the dangers of BPA—used in producing polycarbonate, epoxy and phenolic resins and largely used to make plastic hard and shatterproof, but also used in thermal receipt paper.

BPA is found widely in food packaging and just about everyone has it in his or her system, with diet as the most common culprit. It is a known endocrine disruptor.

Manufacturers have started using alternatives over the past decade, often using chemicals with a similar chemical structure. “The plastics manufacturing industry have turned to alternative bisphenols to produce their ‘BPA-free’ products, often with little toxicology testing,” wrote the authors of the new study.

The plastics manufacturing industry have turned to alternative bisphenols to produce their ‘BPA-free’ products, often with little toxicology testing.

In the current study, researchers tested six substitutes—all bisphenols—in three different human breast cancer cell lines. Two of the cell lines will only grow in the presence of estrogen or an estrogen mimic.

They found that all six of the substitutions mimicked estrogen. Three of the substitutes—bisphenol AF (BPAF), bisphenol B (BPB), and bisphenol Z (BPZ)—were more potent than BPA at mimicking estrogen in the cancer cells.

While the findings do not mean BPA replacements cause breast cancer, the activation of estrogen receptors is behind roughly two-thirds of breast cancer cases. 

“Industry is working to replace BPA because of health concerns – but all these alternatives are also estrogenic,” said senior author Michael Antoniou, a researcher at the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London.

While there isn’t as much information on the compounds as the heavily studied BPA, all six of the chemicals in the study have been detected in breast milk and urine, said Katie Pelch, a research associate at the non-profit organization The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.

One of the compounds, BPS, has been found in thermal paper used for receipts and raised red flags when researchers reported in 2013 that it interferes with the proper functioning of hormones.

For the other replacements, it’s not entirely clear what products they’re used in, Pelch said, but researchers’ “best guess” is that they’re in the same things BPA is used in such as thermal paper used in receipts and food packaging.

Pelch said the study was strong in that it tested the chemicals on different cell types, but was limited in that it only focused on estrogen. Such chemicals can behave in ways other than just mimicking estrogen—such as blocking estrogen, or androgen, she added.

Antoniou said people are more than likely exposed to multiple compounds, making such findings difficult to relate to the real world.

“We’ve studied each compound individually, but the reality is that people are exposed to a mixture of all of these substances,” Antoniou said, adding that he and others are currently studying these “synergistic” effects.

Preprinting a study is an unusual route for a scientific paper. The paper was published this month on an online archive called bioRxiv run by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which touts the website as a way for authors to receive feedback from fellow scientists before submitting to journals.

Lead author of the study, Robin Mesnage, also of King’s College London, said that he and co authors decided to publish the study prior to peer-review because “public health data should be made public as soon as possible because it is of a critical interest for society.”

This piece was originally published on Environmental Health News

By Sandra Curtis

If you haven’t heard yet that the chemical BPA in cash register receipts and credit/debit machines can be a health risk, you might want to know a few facts. New research shows that this chemical, which is a known endocrine disruptor, can be absorbed through your skin.

Bisphenol A (BPA) has been banned for use in baby bottles and sippy cups. Some manufacturers have also removed it from water bottles and food containers. However, the thermal paper used for cash register and other receipts is another common source of BPA. Handling the paper leads to increased levels of the chemical in our bodies because it rubs off easily.

“There’s more BPA in a single thermal paper receipt than the total amount that would leach out from a polycarbonate water bottle used for many years,” said John Warner, Ph.D., president of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry.

Research has linked BPA to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, and reproductive and brain development abnormalities. Because it mimics the biological activity of estrogen, developing children face the greatest risks from BPA.

A chronically high estrogen level disrupts the male and female reproductive and endocrine systems. BPA has been found in well over 90 percent of American adults and children. High levels are associated with altered thyroid function, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, impaired liver and kidney function, inflammation, hyperactivity, and impaired learning. In men, such levels have been linked to reduced libido, lower sperm quality, and altered sex-hormone concentrations. And in women, these levels have been tied to reproductive effects such as polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, miscarriage, premature delivery, and an increased risk of breast cancer. Women may be especially vulnerable to the BPA in receipts.

Even if you’re not a cashier, you still may be getting more BPA exposure than you realize because thermal paper is used in so many receipts we handle – everything from airline boarding passes and luggage tags, to trains, movies, sporting events and amusement parks tickets, even labels on prescription bottles or packaged deli meats or cheeses.

Here’s a quick test to tell you if the paper you’re handling is the thermal type containing BPA: scratch the printed side of the paper. If you see a dark mark, the paper is thermal.

While some manufacturers make “BPA free” thermal paper, they often use a similar chemical (BPS), which also may pose health hazards similar to BPA. Both are easily transferred to skin. These bisphenols are easily absorbed through the skin because skin the molecule is smaller than estradiol — a natural estrogen — that is sometimes delivered by a skin patch.

So what should you do to reduce your exposure? 

  • Be aware that thermal paper discolors easily when scratched with a coin or paperclip.
  • Don’t accept receipts whenever possible.
  • Go with a paperless receipt via email or text message. This is an increasingly available option at many retailers. 
  • If you must handle a receipt, try to touch only the nonglossy backside. It contains much less BPA.
  • Carefully store receipts. If you absolutely need a receipt, place it in an envelope. Its BPA will rub off on everything: your hands, pocket, wallet, or purse, even the folding money in your wallet.
  • Quickly wash your hands after touching a receipt. Scrub with soap and water. If you wait longer than four minutes, it’s too late.
  • Wear latex gloves if your job requires the frequent handling of receipts.
  • Don’t use a hand sanitizer after touching a possible thermal receipt.
    • In a recent experiment, Dr. vom Saal and his team demonstrated that BPA levels went up to 185 times higher, “an absolute monster effect,” after the use of skin products such as hand sanitizers, sunscreens, and moisturizers. These products often contain chemicals called “dermal penetration enhancers” that break down the skin’s protective barrier to enhance delivery of the products’ active ingredients.

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Take the pledge – say “no” to single-use plastic.

By Dawn Gifford

It’s summertime, and it’s hot. What could be more wholesome and refreshing on a hot, sunny day than kids running through the sprinkler and drinking from the garden hose, right?

But what if that hose is delivering a heavy dose of heavy metals and toxic plasticizers to your children and your garden?

According to the Ecology Center, the average garden hose delivers a veritable soup of toxins. They tested 32 new garden hoses from Amazon, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, and Meijer, and analyzed levels of lead, cadmium, tin, mercury, arsenic, antimony, bromine (associated with brominated flame retardants), chlorine (indicating the presence of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC), phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA).

Read: The Garden Hose Study

These metals and chemicals have been linked to birth defects, impaired learning, diabetes, obesity, liver toxicity, premature births, hormone disruption, cancer, and infertility, among other health problems.

Most of the hoses they tested were made from PVC, a toxic plastic that often contains phthalates, BPA and organotins, all of which can interfere with hormonal and reproductive development and 38 percent of the hoses also contained bromine and antimony, chemicals that can lead to thyroid, kidney and liver damage with prolonged exposure.

The hoses were also tested for phthalates, a class of chemicals added to plastics and cosmetic products to keep them soft and flexible. Phthalates have been linked to hormonal imbalances, cancer, sterility in men, lowered IQ, and behavioral problems in children. Seventy-five percent of all the PVC hoses contained phthalates, and even a few of the “drinking water safe” hoses contained phthalates.

Finally, they left seven hoses filled with water to sit outside in the sun for two days, and then tested the water to see what was in it. The hose water contained lead, phthalates and BPA at levels much higher than the drinking water limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

If that weren’t bad enough, it’s not just the hose itself that is toxic. Metal fixtures on hoses aren’t required to adhere to the limits on heavy metals that home faucets are, so even if the plastic itself is safe, the connectors could be adding lead to your water.

One-third of hoses tested had lead levels over 100ppm. There is no safe limit for lead, and even the tiniest amounts can be poisonous.

Garden hoses can pollute your garden too

But it’s not just your kids, livestock, and pets drinking the water that you have to worry about. Although the Ecology Center didn’t test for antimony, phthalates, or BPA in the plants watered with these hoses, Jeff Gearhart, research director at Ecology Center, says it’s very possible that your hose could be contaminating your vegetable garden too.

“We know that these chemicals make it into plants,” he says, referring to studies that have found high levels of phthalates in organic food. “We just can’t show a connection between hoses and chemicals showing up in a plant.”

Fortunately, there are much safer hose alternatives available if you know how to find them. While no garden hose is perfect, there are some safer choices:

Choose a rubber hose. Natural rubber hoses don’t need phthalates, BPA or UV stabilizers to keep them flexible. The Craftsman Premium Rubber hose earned the “Low Hazard” rating in the Ecology Center’s tests, though it is not rated “drinking water safe.”

Choose “drinking water safe” hoses. The safest garden hoses have the label “drinking water safe.” Many of these garden hoses are also labeled “lead-free”, “BPA-free” and “phthalate-free.” Two great choices are the Water Right hose or the Camco hose.

Store your hose in a cool, dark place. Heat and sunlight can break down your hose, no matter what it’s made from, and increase the leaching of chemicals into the water. Keeping your hose out of the heat and sun will also greatly extend its life.

Let your hose run a bit before using the water from it. This will flush out any metals or chemicals sitting in your hose that have leached into the water while you weren’t using it.

Dawn Gifford is an award-winning sustainability expert and founder of the blog Small Footprint Family, where this post originally appeared. Used with permission. 

Photo: Daniel Hughes via Foter / CC BY-SA