Shocking! Dangerous Toxic Chemicals Found in Dollar Store Products

BY ON February 18, 2015

Photograph of a Family Dollar store

Think the products you find on store shelves are safe? Think again. There’s lead in plastic tablecloths. Bromine in Christmas lights. PVC in yellow duckies. Phthalates in bathtub appliqués. And that’s just a small subset of the products recently tested from discount retailers across the country. Red flags came up for dolls, kid backpacks, pencil cases, toy cars, kids jewelry, rug pads, and dozens of other household items.

A Broken System

When it comes to protecting our families from toxic chemicals, we are dealing with a broken system. There are thousands of untested synthetic chemicals on the market, all shepherded into production by an outdated law – unchanged since its passage in 1976 – that prioritizes the profits of the chemical industry over the health of our children.

We’re working to change that law, along with hundreds of other organizations. But the wheels of policy change grind slow – whereas retail demand can grease the tracks.

That’s why Moms Clean Air Force has joined the Campaign for Healthier Solutions to demand dollar stores refuse to stock toxic products on their shelves.

Why dollar stores?

If you think there’s a Walmart on every corner, just consider the dollar store. The top three dollar store chains – Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar – together operate almost 24,000 stores in the US, compared to about 4,000 Walmarts. Their combined annual sales total $36 billion. They are expanding faster than other retailers, and adding food and alcohol to their offerings.

In many communities, from rural towns to urban neighborhoods, dollar stores are the only convenient retail option – and often they stand in for a regular grocery store, too. They serve primarily low-income communities, many of which already bear a greater burden of environmental pollution and health problems such as asthma compared to higher income communities.

What Is In Dollar Store Products?

The Campaign for Healthier Solutions tested more than one hundred dollar store products for the presence of toxic chemicals. Researchers tested toys, jewelry and other household products sold at dollar stores in six states (California, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, Texas, and West Virginia).

The tests, conducted by Healthy Stuff and released earlier this month, found:

  • 81% of the products tested contained one or more hazardous chemicals above levels of concern. Chemicals detected included phthalates; polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl); and toxic metals such as lead and chromium, bromine, and antimony.
  • 32% of vinyl products tested (12 of 38) contained levels of phthalates above the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) limit for children’s products.
  • 38% of the products tested (63 of 164) contained the toxic plastic PVC (vinyl).

Why Does It Matter?

Picture with text "These earrings contain lead, linked to learning disabilities and other serious conditions. Join over 100 groups in getting harmful products off shelves.These products may harm children. They contain chemicals associated with some of the most intractable chronic diseases of our nation, and some of the most troubling health problems of low-income communities.

  • Phthalates are linked to early puberty in girls, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Lead harms brain development, leading to learning disabilities, lower IQ, and behavioral problems. There is no safe level of lead exposure for children.
  • PVC dust has been linked to asthma.

No one should have to be exposed to these harmful chemicals; least of all children in low-income families. But because our laws are weak, chemicals in our products are unlabeled and untested. It’s time retailers take responsibility for the products they are selling.

How Can Retailers Make a Difference?

Many companies have decided to take responsibility for the health and safety of the products they sell. Target and Walmart have both announced plans to phase out toxic chemicals from their stores. Other companies are eliminating harmful flame retardant chemicals from their furniture. It can be done. Especially when moms demand it.

Join us to demand that dollar stores take toxic chemicals off their shelves.

Photo: Tupungato /



TOPICS: Toxics

  • kj force

    Molly..I too have written several articles regarding this exact issue… are you aware this “estes” is also used in tubing for IV, breathing apparatus, cosmetics, lotions, pacifiers ! and flooring used in our homes….no wonder there are so many disorders surfacing everyday. The Human body is being compromised 24/7…thank you for bring awareness to this issue and sharing..

  • Molly Rauch

    KJ, thanks for pointing out that industrial chemicals are in so many of the products we use. We have multiple exposures from multiple sources, and we don’t know the full extent of the impacts. That’s why we need strong consumer demand for a comprehensive approach. Demanding that retailers ensure the safety of the products they sell is one step on that path.

  • SkyLives2Sail

    My daughter was just diagnosed with lead poisoning 🙁 thank you for bringing awareness.

    • Wendy R

      My daughter had that. But, she was a baby/toddler who put EVERYTHING in her mouth. We also found lead paint dust in our drop ceiling. Be vigilant in follow up testing. My daughters level was fine after demo’ing our living room (bye bye lead paint) and her finally growing out of everything in the mouth. It can even be in play sand!

      • SkyLives2Sail

        We did! We had the CDC come in and test everything from the paint, floors, pottery and keychains. They even tested the soil outside. The only thing that came back positive were the toys we purchased from the dollar store. Luckily there are lead test strips you can pick up to test things on your own too. It took us a year to be rid of it! We had blood tests ran ever two months until the levels were low enough. Now she just gets tested once a year and we don’t buy cheap toys or play jewelry or plastic table cloths/ shower curtains. We were lucky that they caught it and we were able to remove the items from our home.

        • Marian Blalock Bernstein

          Glad she is better!

  • john marzich

    Noticed a lot of stuff from china.

  • Deanna

    This is sad, we all have it hard now days and our children is all we have and I don’t understand why this stuff keeps getting on the shelves, it cost more to make it why have they not phased it out? Just makes no sense to me, and makes me wonder-why? My kids call me a conspiracy theorist but I tell them that if something is wrong there is a reason.