Holiday Shopping: Best Retailers for Toxic-Free Gifts
By Tom Hucker
The holiday shopping season is upon us, and Americans are expected to spend a whopping $1.1 trillion in holiday purchases this year.
Across the nation, discerning shoppers will seek out information to help them choose safe and healthy products for their families and friends. They will read warning labels to help them decide which toys might pose choking hazards, and which video games and movies are age-appropriate.
As party hosts prepare their office gatherings and holiday dinners, they will pore over nutrition labels to assess the saturated fat content in their gingerbread, the sodium in their stuffing and whether their turkey or ham is free of antibiotics or GMOs. And they might warn Uncle Frank about his cholesterol levels as he pours his second glass of eggnog.
All that information is easily available to conscious consumers. But unfortunately, holiday shoppers will find out very little about hundreds of toxic chemicals that are lurking in many of the gifts and foods they will purchase this season. Hardly any consumers will find labels warning them about foods or beauty products that contain phthalates, which are associated with reproductive harm.
Few shoppers will find out about the carcinogenic and unnecessary flame retardants that may be included with their child's new crib mattress or bedroom furniture. And most consumers will not realize that many of the new clothes or carpets they purchase may be covered in Teflon-like chemicals called PFAS, which are linked to cancer, low birth weight, immune system problems, and other harms.
Fortunately, the new 2018 Retailer Report Card shows holiday shoppers which retailers are taking steps to disclose and remove the worst toxic chemicals from the products they sell, and which ones don't seem to make this a priority. The newly expanded Retail Report Card was recently released by NRDC's partners in the Mind the Store coalition, with whom we work year-round to persuade retailers to reduce and eliminate the worst toxics from consumer products.
Using the Report Card, consumers can find out what their favorite retailers are doing to protect their customers from toxic chemicals—and what they're failing to do. The report finds that some major national retailers are taking significant actions to protect the public, while others show much less progress and are falling behind their competitors. The 2018 Retail Report Card ranks forty major retailers across 14 key criteria, so you are likely to find some interesting revelations about your favorite merchants.
Specifically, our coalition engages directly with retailers to urge them to develop an overall policy covering the worst toxic chemicals. The campaign then urges them to disclose the chemicals in products they sell and to phase out dangerous chemicals entirely from consumer products, often beginning with food, health and beauty items and products marketed for use by pregnant women, babies and young children.
Mind the Store
At a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Congress are failing to protect public health from dangerous chemicals, NRDC's market campaigns and our partnerships with coalitions like Mind the Store offer NRDC members a way to bring public pressure directly to retailers to convince them to get toxic chemicals out of the consumer products we rely on every day.
And this public pressure is paying off. This year alone, 18 retailers improved their score. Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Amazon are the most improved companies this year, since each announced a broad-based new chemicals policy. Walgreens and Rite Aid each pledged to eliminate a long list of the most dangerous chemicals from beauty, personal care and household cleaning products. And Amazon announced the first chemical policy for any dedicated e-commerce retailer, following negotiations with NRDC and Mind the Store that lasted over a year.
Mind the Store
Unfortunately, while many major retailers made progress in 2018, too many others are still not with the program. An unacceptable 19 of the 40 retailers surveyed received an F grade for failing to create even the most basic policies to address toxic chemicals in their products or their packaging—including Traders Joe's, Starbucks and many other food retailers.
But we have found that organized pressure from NRDC members can force retailers to take dramatic action to eliminate the worst chemicals. After several consumers died from using dangerous paint strippers, hundreds of thousands of NRDC members and others wrote to Lowe's to demand that they end their sales of paint strippers containing methylene chloride or a toxic substitute, NMP. Lowe's quickly agreed to remove all deadly paint strippers from their shelves by the end of 2018. And The Home Depot, Walmart, Sherwin-Williams, Kelly Moore, True Value Hardware and some Canadian retailers have all followed with similar pledges to end the sales of these toxic consumer products.
We need to continue our momentum. We need to make sure companies know that consumers are watching—by thanking the leaders for the steps they've taken and challenging the laggards to start taking toxic chemicals seriously. Click here to see the rankings of individual companies and to send an email to their CEOs urging them to follow our coalition's recommendations.
If we keep up the pressure from informed consumers, we'll have many more toxic-free consumer products available for your holiday shopping list next year.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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