Retailers selling directly to early care and education programs, including child care programs and Head Start, need to do more to screen out harmful chemicals, a new report to be released Monday finds.
The report released today by the Getting Ready for Baby coalition, “Selling Safer Products for Early Care and Education,” is the first assessment of these niche retailers who target directly to early care and education programs, including child care and preschools. It assessed policies on chemicals in products they sell, and how transparent retailers were, and found:
- While nearly all (22 of 24) retailers use certifications to identify chemically-safer products, only one company applies a broad chemicals policy to all products it sells: Community Playthings.
- Another leader, Kaplan Early Learning, offered the most types of certifications in products they sell.
- On the other end of the spectrum, only for Creative Children were we unable to find any information about chemicals in products or relevant certifications.
- All of the rest reference at least one environmental or health benefit in some product descriptions.
Chemicals common to children’s products are scientifically linked to pediatric diseases and disorders of environmental origin. Examples include asthma, cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, genetic mutations, early puberty and infertility.
The companies that sell the furniture, art supplies, toys, tableware and carpets for child care providers and early education programs occupy a niche market, away from public attention. And yet, in many programs, these catalog and online stores are the primary sources for the bulk of what a child interacts with every day. Eleven million children spend time in formal child care settings, averaging 36 hours a week nationally.
With only one company taking the necessary steps to screen out harmful chemicals from products in babies’ and toddlers’ daily environments, advocates urge all early care and learning retailers to:
create and implement a policy for screening out chemicals that can harm children’s healthy development;
establish a timeline for implementation;
make the policy and the timeline public; and
establish and implement a clear and consistent method for consumers to identify less toxic products.
“The early years are a time of rapid growth and development so it is especially important to nurture and protect children during this phase of their life.” Jess Klos Shapiro, Director of Policy for the Early Care and Learning Council in New York. “Busy, working parents rely on their care arrangements to provide a safe and educational setting. The classrooms and toys that children are exposed to on a regular basis must be free of harmful chemicals and foster the best environment for children to grow and thrive.”
“Retailers who sell directly to those caring for and teaching our youngest children should follow the lead of major consumer retailers and use their position to ensure that not only are products they sell physically safe, they’re healthy for developing bodies. The national Getting Ready for Baby coalition calls on these companies to act now, because child care providers, like parents, shouldn’t have to be toxicologists to ensure products are free from harmful chemicals,” said Bobbi Wilding, Deputy Director of Clean and Healthy New York and Coordinator of the Getting Ready for Baby coalition.
“We applaud Community Playthings for taking the lead to ensure safe, healthy products for our children while they’re at child care programs or preschool. It’s disheartening, however, to see that no other company has established a policy to ensure it sells only products made without harmful chemicals,” said Kim LaBo of Healthy Legacy Coalition and Clean Water Action Minnesota.
"As a nurse, I am deeply concerned about the growing body of research linking toxic chemicals in products to serious health problems. Babies are uniquely vulnerable so it is critical that large retailers work with suppliers to move away from the use of toxic chemicals in products they sell," said Anne Hulick, RN, MS, JD, of Clean Water Action Connecticut and the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut.
“Babies brains develop rapidly in the early years, and chemicals in their daily lives can alter healthy development. As retailers aimed at those who care and educate babies and young children have an additional responsibility to make sure the products they sell are made with materials and chemicals that are safe for healthy brains,” said Tracy Gregoire, coordinator of Learning Disabilities Association of America's Coalition for Safer Products, Healthier Minds.
National retailers like Target, Walmart, buybuy BABY and Babies”R”Us have policies to restrict toxic chemicals in products they sell. Product makers such as Patagonia, H & M, and Seventh Generation have policies to restrict toxic chemicals in the products they make.