QUIZ: Why Is Walmart Banning Brominated Flame Retardants (PBDEs)?

A.     Because brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) are toxic chemicals.  And Walmart executives care about the health of you and your children more than they care about profits.
B.     Because federal chemical regulation is weak and ineffective.
C.     Because several states have already passed regulation banning the controversial flame retardants, and it’s a pain for Walmart to keep track of which state allows what.
D.     Because consumers and advocacy groups are demanding safer products.
E.      Because Walmart wants to make money.
F.      All of the above, except A.


 Soon, the car set you buy at Walmart will be free
of the controversial flame retardants known as PBDEs.

Now I wasn’t  privy to the conversations that led to Walmart’s decision to ban PBDE flame retardants (sadly), but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think F (All of the above, except A) is the best answer here.  Let’s pretend this is the Princeton Review, and discuss each of the possible answers.

A.     Because brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) are toxic chemicals.  And Walmart executives care about the health of you and your children more than they care about profits.

PBDEs are indeed toxic chemicals.  The EPA calls PBDEs a "chemical of concern." PBDEs accumulate and persist in humans and in the environment.  PBDEs have been linked to “problems with the liver, thyroid and reproductive systems and brain development in laboratory animals” (Washington Post). PBDEs are in everyone.  They exist in the highest levels in small children, whose developing brains and reproductive systems are especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals.  PBDEs are used in hundreds of consumer products, including car seats, mattresses, pillows, electronics, furniture that contains polyurethane foam, and carpet padding, but you won't find it listed on any label.  PBDEs are everywhere.
"Every time you sit on the couch there's a little 'Pig Pen' effect, a little poof," said Kathy Curtis of the Environmental Health Fund. "You adjust your computer screen and a little bit comes off, and you pick up the sandwich and take a bite and now it's in your body. This stuff is everywhere." (Washington Post)
In the future, because of the “Walmart Effect,” even folks who don’t shop at Walmart stand to benefit from the ban of PBDEs:
"This [ban] will have both direct and indirect ripple effects," said Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. "The companies producing for Wal-Mart are not going to make a special line for them and another line with those chemicals for everyone else. And this is going to make it easier for other retailers to follow suit." (Washington Post)
While answer A is a great reason to ban PBDEs, I don’t think it’s the reason Walmart execs are banning PBDEs from Walmart’s products.  I’m no Walmart expert (I did watch Frontline’s Is Walmart Good for America? a few years ago).  But, as a general rule, I think your average corporation is more worried about profits than human health.  That’s too bad, but understandable.  So let’s move on to the other answers.

B.     Because federal chemical regulation is weak and ineffective.

If PBDEs are toxic, why are they allowed in consumer products?
The nation's chemical laws, created 35 years ago, make it extremely difficult for the federal government to ban or restrict a chemical's use. Regulators must prove a chemical poses a clear health risk, but the EPA has sufficient health and safety data for only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in commerce in the United States.  The hurdles are so high that the agency has been unable to ban asbestos, widely acknowledged as a likely carcinogen and barred in more than 30 countries. (Washington Post)
C.     Because several states have already passed regulation banning the controversial flame retardants, and it’s a pain for Walmart to keep track of which state allows what.

The sad state of federal regulation has resulted in a patchwork of state legislation regarding chemicals in consumer products.  And that is annoying for national companies who want to buy huge quantities of a single product to sell throughout the U.S.   According to the Washington Post, “Spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said Wal-Mart was motivated to act after a handful of states began banning PBDEs.”

D.     Because consumers and advocacy groups are demanding safer products.

But why did those states pass state chemical legislation?  Because advocacy groups and voters demanded it. Walmart is probably betting that that more and more consumers will demand PBDE-free products, and that more and more states will pass legislation banning PBDEs.  

E.      Because Walmart wants to make money.

In the end, I think this sums it up best.  While federal regulators and chemical companies may hem and haw about the safety of controversial PBDEs, scientists and advocacy groups are sounding the alarm, consumers are demanding safer products, and voters are demanding change from their state legislatures.  In the future, it will pay off that Walmart chose to be pro-active rather than reactionary.  

F.      All of the above, except A.

However, E could not be the reason Walmart is banning PBDEs without B, C and D.  Thanks to pesky citizens, advocacy groups, and dedicated legislators (and no thanks to the federal government), it pays for Walmart to make the choice that is healthier for you, your children, and the planet. 


Additional Resources

Become an Advocate for Safer Chemicals (Safer Chemicals Healthy Families)

How to Buy a Natural Bed when You Have No Income  (Eco-novice)
Includes information about avoiding flame retardants in your mattress, pillow, and bedding.

Get Answers: What are Safer Pillow Options? (Healthy Child Healthy World)
Pillows and car seats are some of the most significant sources of PBDEs in humans.

What do You Know about Toxic Fire Retardants in Mattresses and Couches? (Healthy Child Healthy World)

Household Dust Doesn’t Pose a Fire Hazard, So Why Is It Loaded With Flame Retardants? (Healthy Child Healthy World)
Includes tips for avoiding PBDE exposure.

Reducing your exposure to PBDEs in your home (Environmental Working Group)

EWG’s Guide to PBDEs (Environmental Working Group)

3 comments:

  1. I read your article over at Healthy Child, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. What is scaring me is if they aren't using PBDEs then what are they using? And who says it is safe? The track record on flame retardants aren't real good.

    PS read your eco-bed post too. Loved it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anna, thanks for the positive feedback! Your site is comprehensive and awesome. What a resource! Here it is for other readers:
    http://www.green-talk.com/

    ReplyDelete
  3. I TRY to shop at Walmart as little as possible even though they are basically right across the street from us. I saw a movie about how they REALLY treat their employees and about how they purposely close their eyes to how those people who are making their goods in other countries are being treated. Sad. I don't want Walmart to have any of my money, but we do shop there in a jam.

    ReplyDelete

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