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Consumer group targeting toxic products at discount stores

Bargain stores are great for some products, not so great for others. Everybody likes to get a bargain, after all, but there is that inescapable truth about getting what you pay for. Bargain or not, the customer still expects satisfaction. That depends somewhat on one’s budget and one’s expectations, but barring unforeseen catastrophes such as product recalls or complete failure on the first use, shoppers seem to be happy with the bargain stores. Would they be as happy if they knew that many of the products they are buying at those low low discount prices are toxic and could make them and their children sick?

In the United States, according to Treehugger, there are more “dollar stores” than there are Walmarts. In some areas, the dollar store is the only place to buy food and those essential household goods everyone needs. But a group called Campaign for Healthier Solutions is releasing a report in which it claims to have found that the “vast majority” of products sold in dollar stores are toxic. The group says it tested a range of products and found that they contain toxic chemicals or materials that have been linked to learning disabilities, cancer, diabetes and other diseases. The group is mounting a campaign to ask dollar stores to stop selling products that contain these materials.

The usual suspects: lead, phthalates, PVCs

The chemicals they want removed are the old familiar ones: phthalates, lead, and polyvinyl chloride or PVC. They are particularly concerned to remove children’s products containing these. Lead in store shelving and in storage and distribution is also a concern. It is not yet clear what the group actually found, as they have not yet released their report, nor do they have a website. In a related story, a writer at Money Talks News flat out warns people not to buy toys at the dollar stores because they are “junk,” prone to recalls because of lead content, and prone to breaking.

The substances they are concerned about have been regulated for years. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is the government regulator in the US, and it reports that the number of toy recalls in 2013 was down, and that none of the 31 toy recalls involved a lead violation. That would seem to show that progress is being made in keeping the toxic materials out of the hands of children; in 2008, 19 of 172 toy recalls in the US were for excessive lead. The CPSC and US Customs proudly state that they stopped almost 10 million toys from entering the country in 2013 because they violated lead and phthalate limits.

The range of products that potentially contain lead or phthalates is not limited to toys. Recalls because of lead are frequent—children’s sunglasses, magnetic “sorting boards,” dining tables, beds, outdoor furniture, travel cases, craft jewelry kits, clothing. All of these are available at thrift stores, but also at regular retailers. Merchants in the US are expected to know whether a product has been recalled for a safety issue. If a merchant learns that a product he is selling violates the law or presents a hazard, that merchant is supposed to inform the safe products commission and stop selling it.

In November, the CSPC, Health Canada and the consumer protection agency of Mexico issued a joint statement that they were joining forces to protect children from dangerous toys.

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