Three years ago, Walmart pulled polycarbonates off their shelves because they were made with Bisphenol A (BPA). Marc Gunther complained that Walmart had become the new FDA, pulling product before the government agencies concluded that they were harmful. He wrote:
When we lost trust in our regulators--as we seem to have lost faith in the FDA--we are left with mob rule, as manufacturers and retailers (i.e., Wal-Mart) come under pressure to stop making and selling perfectly legal products. Strong and predictable regulation, it seems to me, is better for business as well as for the rest of us than the chaos now surrounding BPA."
Now Walmart has turned into the EPA as well, once again beating the regulators and banning polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a flame retardant used in textiles and electronics. It has been linked to liver and reproductive problems.
The Washington Post explains why Government works so slowly:
The nation's chemical laws, created 35 years ago, make it extremely difficult for the federal government to ban or restrict a chemical's use. Regulators must prove a chemical poses a clear health risk, but the EPA has sufficient health and safety data for only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in commerce in the United States.
The hurdles are so high that the agency has been unable to ban asbestos, widely acknowledged as a likely carcinogen and barred in more than 30 countries.
Some people are encouraged that Walmart is taking these steps ahead of government, and think that it is great that industry is taking the lead.
"This will have both direct and indirect ripple effects," said Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. "The companies producing for Wal-Mart are not going to make a special line for them and another line with those chemicals for everyone else. And this is going to make it easier for other retailers to follow suit."
I am not so sanguine. Who would have thought that we had to rely on the power of Walmart to regulate our health and safety. I agree with Marc Gunther: this is why are supposed to have government agencies like the EPA. Nobody elected Walmart and they are not saints, (read Are Walmart's Eco-Efforts Enough? Balancing Sustainability & Social Responsibility at America's Largest Retailer).
How did it come to this, where Walmart makes these decisions, the government is impotent, and the chemical industry makes the rules.
More in Washington Post and Consumerist
More on PDBE fire retardants:
PDBEs: Where Do They Come From And What Are They Doing To Us?
Are Carpets & Computers Dispensing Timed-Release Birth Control Vapors?
Blood Levels Of Flame Retardants Correlate With House Dust Exposure
Petroleum Furnishings Give Kitties and Kiddos Higher PBDE Exposures
Women With High PBDE Levels 50 Percent Slower to Conceive, New Study Says