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Chemical lobbyists try to get Walmart to revoke its safer products promise

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On February 27, 2014, Walmart gave its suppliers notice of the ten chemicals they are being asked to remove from their products. This notification is the next step in a process that began in September 2013, when the retail giant announced that it was committing to selling less toxic products. However, the cleanup process is in jeopardy, as the American Chemistry Council -- a lobbying group that works for chemical producers -- has been in discussions with Walmart "advis[ing] the retailer why beauty and household products need certain chemicals to last longer in a medicine cabinet or retain a fragrance."

Walmart's journey to selling safer products is scheduled to take a couple of years. In January 2015, for example, the retailer will compel its suppliers to provide online access to complete ingredient lists of its health and wellness and consumable products. At present, Walmart is working with the companies that make its "own-brand" products to reformulate these products without certain chemicals. Although the specific chemicals have not been disclosed to the public, Walmart has informed suppliers of these ten chemicals, which the company has judged to be the ones whose swift removal will bring the greatest benefit to consumers. All ten chemicals are on the "Hazardous Hundred" list developed by consumer advocacy group Mind the Store.

Additionally, some of Walmart's own-brand products already qualify for the EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling program, which means that these products will use only ingredients that have been designated by the EPA as the safest in their class. EPA DfE labeling began in January at Walmart.

However, the program is in jeopardy due to the involvement of lobbyists. The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which "represents the leading companies in the business of chemistry," including Dow, DuPont, Eli Lilly, and ExxonMobil, has issued a statement challenging Walmart's stated desire to clean up its act. According to the statement, members of the ACC have been talking to Walmart for months, trying to convince the retailer that government oversight of chemicals is sufficient to protect the public from harm. Clearly the EPA's ability to highlight some chemicals as the safest in their class" indicates that not all chemicals are equally safe. Additionally, the ACC has a history of opposing government regulation of toxic substances in consumer products such as children's toys. Walmart has already reneged on one promise to phase out chemicals. It remains to be seen whether the company will honor its present commitment.

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