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Advocates For Environmental Human Rights: Sears/Kmart Become Latest Retail Giants To Phase Out Toxic PVC Plastic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 12, 2007
11:45 AM

CONTACT: Advocates For Environmental Human Rights
Nathalie Walker, AEHR, 504.453.6791, nwalker-aehr@cox.net
Ateqah Khaki, Riptide Communications, 212-260-5000, ateqah@riptideonline.com
Dianna S. Wentz, CHEJ, 703.237.2249 x 19, dianna@chej.org
Mike Schade, CHEJ PVC, 212.964.3680, mike@besafenet.com

 
Sears/Kmart Become Latest Retail Giants To Phase Out Toxic PVC Plastic, Major Source of Lead, Phthalates, and Dioxin Exposure
Advocates for Environmental Human Rights See Development a Step Toward Reducing Toxic Pollution In Communities of Color
 

WASHINGTON - December 12 - Sparked by a national campaign led by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR) together with a coalition of health and environmental organizations, today Sears Holdings (Sears and KMart) has announced its plans to begin phasing out products and packaging containing the toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, commonly known as vinyl. Sears and KMart join Wal-Mart and Target in reducing and phasing out PVC in products and packaging. Target’s policy was just announced last month. Sears Holdings, the publicly traded parent of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co., is the nation’s sixth-largest retailer with over $50 billion in annual revenues and approximately 3,800 retail stores in the United States and Canada.*

Sears Holdings has announced it is working to reduce and phase out PVC in its packaging and merchandise, including encouraging vendors to label their PVC-free merchandise. Additionally, Sears is working to identify safer, more sustainable and cost-effective alternatives to PVC and incorporate them into the design and manufacturing process for private label merchandise and packaging. For a complete list of Sears’ PVC policy and plans: http://www.searsholdings.com/.

CHEJ and AEHR are buoyed by Sears’ efforts and applauds its willingness to recognize the harm that can be caused by PVC for all who come in contact with the PVC life cycle, from workers making the products, communities located near PVC chemical plants, and consumers purchasing them, and to those living near landfills and incinerators where the products are ultimately discarded.

“When you mention Sears to someone, especially at Christmas time, it elicits memories of the Sears catalogue and toy shopping; Sears holds a place in America’s collective memory,” said Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. “It is fitting, right, and proper then, that Sears Holdings has been willing not only to recognize the potential dangers and harm caused by some of the products it currently sells, but has made the right decision to begin ridding its stores of this toxic PVC material.”

Advancing its mission to prevent health-related harm to individuals and the environment, CHEJ has been campaigning vigorously to educate retailers and the public about the dangers associated with PVC plastic. In March, 2006, CHEJ authored a letter signed by over sixty coalition members, asking Sears Holdings to sign a PVC-free pledge. Since receiving that letter, Sears Holdings representatives began holding good-faith discussions with CHEJ and other coalition members, resulting in today’s major announcement. Sears Holdings was also contacted by a coalition of shareholders led by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who filed a resolution at the company raising concerns about PVC. The resolution was later withdrawn when the company signaled a willingness to engage in dialog with shareholders.

“The PVC industry in LA has been the source of millions of pounds of toxic pollution for years. Getting large retailers like Sears and KMart to phase out PVC products and packaging is an important step towards reducing the horrible pollution burden that PVC facilities dump on communities, like Mossville, LA,” said Nathalie Walker, attorney and co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.

Located in southwest Louisiana, Mossville is an unincorporated African American community that is surrounded by five vinyl production facilities, the largest concentration in the United States. Health studies conducted by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry show that Mossville residents are exposed to elevated levels of dioxin, which is a by-product of vinyl manufacturing. For more information, download Industrial Sources of Dioxin Poisoning in Mossville, Louisiana at http://www.ehumanrights.org/media_reports_mossville.html.

"Money talks and I hope that the vinyl companies polluting my community of Mossville, Louisiana are listening to Sears and KMart, who will stop selling vinyl products and using vinyl packaging," said Edgar Mouton, Jr., President of Mossville Environmental Action Now, an environmental justice organization.

CHEJ PVC Campaign Coordinator Mike Schade, has been working to educate numerous companies and consumers regarding the dangers of PVC plastic since 2005. As a result of these efforts in the PVC phase-out campaign, the PVC campaign was awarded a Business Ethics “Benny” award this fall and Mr. Schade was ranked fifty-one on a list of the top 100 most influential people in business ethics. “We welcome and applaud Sears Holdings’ new PVC phase-out policy, which will go a long way in protecting workers, communities, and consumers from the poison plastic,” said Schade. “We look forward to working with the company to develop a plan to fully implement it. Sears’ decision signals a major trend in the retail sector as Target and Wal-Mart have also developed policies to reduce or phase out PVC. The writing is on the wall for PVC – it’s on its way out and safer alternatives are in.”

Recent reports indicate that the world stock of PVC in use contains 3.2 million tons of lead. Lead can damage the brain and nervous system, cause behavior, learning and developmental disabilities, and decreased IQ. Previous testing has detected lead in a broad range of PVC consumer products including toys, lunchboxes, baby bibs, jewelry, garden hoses, mini blinds, Christmas trees, and electronics.

A report released just last week -- http://healthytoys.org/home.php -- found that almost one half of all toys tested are made out of PVC, which often contain phthalates. Exposure to phthalates have been linked with premature birth delivery, early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, genital defects, and reduced testosterone production in boys. Over ninety percent of all phthalates are used in PVC products and are often found in many toys such as rubber duckies and bath books.

“PVC plants have contaminated the air and water of surrounding communities with highly hazardous chemicals such as vinyl chloride and dioxins,” said Professor Peter Orris, MD MPH, Professor and Chief of Service at the University of Illinois Medical Center Chicago. “These chemicals can cause cancer and other serious health problems for neighbors in surrounding communities.”

Sears and KMart are joining a growing list of dozens of companies including Target, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Apple that are eliminating or reducing its PVC products and packaging. In addition to Target’s recent announcement, Wal-Mart reached its two-year deadline in October to eliminate PVC from the packaging of its private brand products.

For in-depth details on the CHEJ PVC Campaign to prevent toxic harm in the retail industry: http://www.besafenet.com/pvc.

* According to Stores magazine rankings, Sears/KMart, Wal-Mart and Target have a combined annual sales total of over $460 billion. Wal-Mart is ranked as the nation’s number one retailer, Target is ranked number five and Sears/Kmart is ranked number six.

About AEHR

Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (“AEHR”) is a non-profit, public interest law firm dedicated to advancing and defending the human right to a healthy environment. AEHR provides a broad range of litigation and public advocacy services to communities where the fundamental human rights to life, health, and racial equality are systematically violated by governmental laws, policies, and practices that facilitate and perpetuate severe environmental degradation. In March 2005, AEHR filed the first ever human rights legal challenge against the U.S. government for establishing an environmental regulatory system that deprives people of their fundamental human rights. On behalf of the African American residents in the historic community of Mossville, Louisiana, AEHR filed the human rights petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. Since Hurricane Katrina, the work of AEHR has expanded to advocating for human rights protections in the treatment of displaced people from New Orleans and the Gulf region. To learn more, please visit www.ehumanrights.org

About CHEJ

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice exists to mentor the movement to build healthier communities by empowering people to prevent harm in as many ways, and for as many people, as possible. We believe this can happen when people and groups have the power to play an integral role in promoting human health and environmental integrity. CHEJ’s role is to provide the tools, the direction, and the encouragement to these people and groups, so that they can build strong, healthy communities where they live, work, learn, shop, play and pray. Following her successful effort to prevent further harm for the people living in contaminated Love Canal, Lois Gibbs founded CHEJ in 1981 in order to continue mentoring others seeking to prevent harm. CHEJ provides mentoring assistance to communities, homeowners, families and individuals throughout the country. To date, CHEJ has assisted over 10,000 groups nationwide. Currently, CHEJ is mentoring community groups in Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio. Details on CHEJ’s efforts to help people and communities prevent harm can be found at http://chej.org/.

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