REPORT HIGHLIGHTS

Dollar store products, including headphones and children’s toys, contain toxic levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and antimony.

Up to 30 per cent of products tested at Dollar Tree and Dollarama contain heavy metals such as lead and other toxic chemicals such as phthalates, bisphenols and PFAS or “forever chemicals.”

Exposures to hazardous chemicals, even in small amounts, are linked to reproductive, behavioral, metabolic impacts and chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma and diabetes.

People living in Canada should not be poisoned by the products they purchase from discount stores, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

- Cassie Barker, Toxics Program Senior Manager

INTRODUCTION

Hazardous chemicals were found in chemical testing of household products, toys, electronics and food packaging purchased from dollar stores.

These substances include heavy metals, bisphenols, and PFAS, which are associated with a wide range of negative health outcomes.

In Canada, some toxic substances are prohibited or limited to certain products. However, because our toxics law has not been meaningfully updated in decades, many hazardous substances that are known to cause reproductive, behavioural and cardiovascular effects are still found in consumer products.

Toxic chemicals have no place in our homes. Children’s products in particular should not contain highly toxic heavy metals such as lead. Yet several products we tested from dollar stores (Dollarama, Dollar Tree) in Canada were found to contain components with high levels of lead which is a significant health hazard, particularly to children.

There is a lack of regulations for internal lead in products, despite the tendency for these products to fall apart and expose their dangerous hidden components. This gap in regulation is a loophole that dollar stores are using in order to sell products that contain high levels of lead - and not break any laws. There is no safe limit on lead,  and children’s products should not contain this hazardous substance.

Food products, such as canned food and microwave popcorn, have hazardous chemicals in their packaging, which can migrate into the food and lead to exposures to bisphenol-A (BPA), PFAS or "forever chemicals" and other hazardous substances.

 

Individual consumers do not have access to this product information, as there are no federal regulations that require companies to label or disclose these ingredients. In fact, many of these ingredients and formulations are considered “trade secrets.” Furthermore, discount retailers target low-income and racialized communities as their customer base and these types of hazardous exposures are part of a broader pattern of poor air quality, drinking water contaminants, toxic soils, and unhealthy food access.

Our tests found highly toxic levels of heavy metals in hidden components of products marketed toward children.

Earbuds

LEAD
x the limit*

Activity Tracker

LEAD
x the limit*

*Compared to the external limit on lead. There are no regulations on hidden/internal lead in children's products that recognize the real use scenario of children's products being sucked on, chewed, or broken, which results in exposure to toxic internal components. 

0%

Of the products tested at Dollar Tree contained toxic chemicals

0%

Of the products tested at Dollarama contained toxic chemicals

KEY FINDINGS

Our researchers purchased products from Dollarama and Dollar Tree stores in the Toronto, Ontario area in 2021 for toxic chemical testing for heavy metals, phthalates, PVC, bisphenols, and PFAS. 

Tested items included:

  • Thermal cash register receipts from both Dollar Tree and Dollarama.
  • Food can linings from Dollarama.
  • Microwave popcorn bags from Dollar Tree.
  • Household items, toys, and electronics from both Dollar Tree and Dollarama.

At least one in four products tested contained toxic chemicals, including lead in children’s products and electronics such as headphones.

  • Dollar Tree: 30 per cent of the products tested contained toxic chemicals.
  • Dollarama: 25 per cent of the products tested contained toxic chemicals.
  • All of the cash register receipts tested contained bisphenol-S (BPS).
  • All of the food cans tested contained toxic chemicals (60 per cent with BPA, 40 per cent with PVC and polyester resin).
  • All of the microwave popcorn packaging tested contained PFAS.

These results should be concerning for both retailers and regulators, who are not ensuring that products are safe for consumers, particularly children.

TOXIC CHEMICALS AND OUR HEALTH

Chemicals found in household products, toys, electronics and food packaging can have serious health effects.

Canadians are exposed to chemicals from many sources, and the cumulative impact of these exposures is especially hazardous to vulnerable populations.

Exposures to hazardous chemicals, even in small amounts, are linked to reproductive, behavioural, metabolic impacts and chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma, and diabetes. Toxic exposures are also linked to learning disabilities such as low IQ, autism spectrum, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA, 1999) is the legislation that oversees chemical regulations, but it fails to adequately protect our health and the environment from hazardous chemical exposures. Science has evolved over the two decades since CEPA was last updated, and we now know more about the cumulative effects of even small doses of toxic chemicals.

The Government of Canada uses a definition of “toxic” under CEPA, which requires a substance to be a significant hazard to human health or the environment and have high enough levels of exposure among the general population to justify its risk management such as restriction or prohibition.

This leads to gaps where many chemicals are not deemed “toxic” under the narrow CEPA definition, despite posing long-term detrimental effects on our health, reproduction, and well-being.

Racialized and low-income communities are targeted by low-cost retailers that, despite their own environmental and social responsibility reporting, are selling these communities products laden with harmful substances.

- Dr. INGRID WALDRON,  ENRICH PROJECT

RECOMMENDATIONS

Government, retailers, and individuals can all play a part in eliminating hazardous chemicals from consumer products.  

Toxic chemicals should not be part of the inexpensive products sold at thousands of retailers across the country. There is an urgent need for meaningful CEPA reform. Our toxics laws need to be amended to protect consumers, particularly children, and products must be tested and removed from commerce when they pose a risk to our health.

GOVERNMENT:

Strengthen the laws and test international products. Our chemicals management process needs to be updated to address and protect us from 21st-century hazards. CEPA must be updated to include:

  • Improved transparency and disclosure with mandatory labelling of hazardous ingredients in products.
  • Better regulatory enforcement and stronger product testing and safety requirements for importers and retailers.
  • Mitigation of the disproportionate exposures and impacts of toxic chemicals on racialized and low-income communities.
  • Banning entire classes of highly hazardous substances to avoid regrettable substitution within the class (e.g. bisphenols). 

RETAILER ACCOUNTABILITY:

Test and remove hazardous products from shelves, and strengthen corporate chemicals policy. 

  • Retailers have an implicit responsibility to provide customers with safe products. Canadians expect products on store shelves to be safe unless there are clear and specific warning labels.
  • The current regulatory requirements are narrow in scope. As such, retailers must strive to exceed these standards and consider the breadth of chemicals of concern that may be in their products. Rigorous testing and auditing of the supply chain are crucial.

CONSUMERS:

  • Pressure companies and governments to act, and avoid hazards where possible. Until healthier public policies are implemented, individuals can take steps to protect their own health.

CONCLUSION

Dollar stores draw much of their profits from racialized and low-income communities and are in a unique position to reduce the unequal toxic burdens faced by these communities. For individuals and communities whose only accessible retail option is a dollar store, we need to ensure that they have equal protection to those whose financial, geographical and socioeconomic privilege allows them to buy their way out of these toxic exposures.

Let's take action!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Produced by ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE. Researched and written by Cassie Barker and Melanie Langille with contributions by Paula Gray. For a full list of contributors please download the report. 

© Copyright August 2022 by ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE CANADA. Permission is granted to the public to reproduce or disseminate this report, in part, or in whole, free of charge, in any format or medium without requiring specific permission. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE CANADA. 

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