Walgreens Urged to Phase Out Toxic Chemicals Linked to Childhood Asthma, Cancer

Maryland health and environmental activists are urging Walgreen’s to phase out formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals currently used in children’s personal care products, which they say can cause serious adverse health effects, such as asthma, cancer and birth defects. 

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group Foundation (PIRG) issued a press release on April 7, announcing that it has gathered 135,000 signatures from customers across the country calling for the retailer to adopt a policy that phases out the toxic chemicals in question.

The PIRG petition is urging Walgreen’s to do everything possible to protect children from the effects of chemicals like formaldehyde in children’s personal care products, such as shampoo, bubble baths and body wash, as well as toys. The chemicals are often asthma triggers in children, and may also cause other health complications.

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“Toxic chemicals commonly found on retail store shelves have been linked to serious health problems that are on the rise, including cancer and childhood asthma” said Matthew Wellington of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Foundation in a press release concerning the petition. “That’s a problem because formaldehyde is a human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization, it can cause respiratory damage in children, and it’s an asthma trigger.”

In 2014 PIRG and the Ecology Center conducted testing, identifying chemicals of concern in products; toys, holiday decorations, Halloween gear, plastics, household cleaners, school supplies, pet toys and other categories.

PIRG joined the national campaign, Mind the Store, which also called on Walgreen’s to adopt a comprehensive policy to protect customers, especially pregnant women and women from toxic chemicals in products. The campaign has organized across 20 states for two years.

Baltimore children have a rate of asthma that is twice the national average, according to PIRG, citing toxic chemical exposure as the reason children are developing asthma. More than 3,000 of the signatures were from consumers in Maryland, the remaining from across the country.

“We need to do everything we can to limit asthma triggers like formaldehyde in children’s products to cut down on the asthma problem in Baltimore,” said Wellington.

Under pressure from consumer advocates Johnson & Johnson removed formaldehyde releasing chemicals from their entire product line in 2013, PIRG is calling on Walgreen’s to also eliminate formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers from children’s personal care products.

In response, Walgreen’s officials announced intentions to develop a new policy that would protect patients. While the announcement was made in December, no details on the new policy have yet been released. Walgreen’s also introduced a new line of household and personal care products called Ology, that are free of chemicals.

Activists are concerned about parabens, PVC, organotins, heavy metals, phthalates, quaternium 15 and formaldehyde. These chemicals have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.

Walgreen’s merged with Alliance Boots recently, a company that has developed a precautionary approach to chemicals in their supply chain, including products for sale in Europe.

“If certain chemicals have been banned in their products in Europe, they should be here as well. It’s only common sense,” added Wellington on the merger.

Target and Walmart adopted comprehensive chemical management programs, identifying priority chemicals that may cause health concerns and have asked suppliers to address the problem.

PIRG officials said Walgreen’s is in the “business of health and wellness,” and as the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, the environmental group is calling on Walgreen’s to protect their customers and remove the chemicals from the products.


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