Mothercare, John Lewis and Argos worst stores in UK for dangerous chemicals

High street stores must do more to phase out chemicals which may adversely affect human health, Friends of the Earth said today. The call coincides with a new survey by the environmental campaign group showing some stores are still not taking effective action to remove risky chemicals from their products.

Friends of the Earth surveyed 28 major high street retailers on their policies towards a number of chemicals that are known to build up in our bodies or may affect hormones and which have been linked to health threats such as increases in testicular cancer rates and the apparent earlier onset of puberty in girls. Unborn babies, infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to these chemicals as their bodies are developing so fast. Products where chemicals of concern may be found include plastic bottles, baby bottles, food cans, electronic equipment, home textiles, clothing, PVC floor tiles, paints, cosmetics and toiletries.

Ikea, Body Shop, Marks & Spencer, B&Q and Co-op topped Friends of the Earth's league table when it comes to replacing risky chemicals with safer alternatives. But Mothercare, John Lewis and Argos languish at the bottom, whereas Tesco, Asda and Morrison's were among those that did not even reply to the survey. Homebase and Sainsbury also failed to reply, even though they have committed themselves to reporting on their work by signing Friends of the Earth's retailers' pledge on safer chemicals.

Awareness of problem chemicals is increasing. All the retailers that responded to Friends of the Earth's survey have done some work, even if only on their own-brand products. For example, the Co-operative Retail group has recently produced a line of household cleaning products without phthalates and some artificial musks, and the British Retail Consortium has produced a Chemicals Toolkit to help retailers prepare strategies for dealing with chemicals.

All the retailers who replied to the question on the subject supported the consumers' right to know about chemicals in products. However, retailers do not necessarily know what is in their products, often because suppliers do not know. Currently, many consumer products (e.g. clothing, furniture, toys, TVs) are not labelled with their chemical content.

Friends of the Earth is calling for stores to do more to reduce the risks posed to their customers, particularly with respect to branded products. Retailers should also disclose their own policies on hazardous chemicals - if any - and report publicly on progress.

Karine Pellaumail, Safer Chemicals Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

"Every day unborn babies, infants and toddlers are exposed to risky chemicals in household products. Retailers are responsible for the products they sell, and should remove chemicals that have been linked to health threats. Although a number of retailers have started to tackle this important issue, too many stores are still not doing enough to reduce the risks that their products pose."

In addition to voluntary action, Friends of the Earth is calling for tough new laws to regulate chemicals. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers are currently discussing proposed new chemical legislation (known as REACH).

Karine Pellaumail added:

"Ultimately we need strong legislation to remove hazardous chemicals that accumulate in wildlife, humans or the environment, and disrupt hormones. Consumers must be protected from potentially dangerous chemicals that are found in everyday products."

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