R.I.-Based CVS Improving Chemical Policies for Products

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

CVS Health is slowly making strides to rid its shelves of chemical-filled cosmetics and shampoos, according to a new report on consumer safety.

As part of a new, retailer-focused initiative, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain scored third among 11 retailers ranked for their efforts to identify and remove chemicals of concern from products they sell.

In the report Who’s Minding the Store, CVS Health earned a grade of C. Walmart was first with a B, and Amazon was last with an F. The average grade was a D+.

Here is the complete ranking (the number score is on a scale of 130 possible points):

1. Walmart stores, Walmart and Sam’s Club: B (78.5 points)
2. Target: B (76.5)
3. CVS Health: C (53)
4. Best Buy: C- (41)
5. The Home Depot: D+ (35.5)
6. Lowe’s: D (29.5)
7. Walgreens: D (29.5)
8. Kroger: D- (15.5)
9. Albertsons: F (12.5)
10. Costco: F (9.5)
11. Amazon: F (7.5)

CVS Health, based in Woonsocket, R.I., was singled out for being the first pharmacy chain in the country to sign on to the Chemical Footprint Project. CVS also promised to publicly release its restricted list of chemicals in 2017.

“The grade for CVS Health reflects significant action to offer its customers safer products, particularly when compared to competitors like Walgreens,” said David Gerraughty, program coordinator at Clean Water Action in Providence. “As a Rhode Islander, it’s great to see a local company ranked so high, and we hope to see continued expansion in the efforts to drive out harmful chemicals.”

Each corporation was graded on 12 criteria that ranged from adopting safer chemical policies to assigning top-level managers to oversee safer chemical initiatives. The report also awarded retailers for leaning on their suppliers to discloses their products' ingredients.

The initiative has a lengthy and impressive supporting coalition that includes businesses and national advocacy groups such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club and Clean Water Action. A handful of environmental and consumer groups from Massachusetts and Connecticut have endorsed the initiative.

The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families initiative urges retailers to voluntarily transition to selling products with less harmful chemicals. It’s an important distinction from groups such as the Environmental Working Group that seek greater regulation of personal-care products through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Personal Care Safety Act, which is stalled in Congress. The legislation seeks oversight of cosmetics, which are almost completely unregulated but contain chemicals linked to cancer, learning disabilities and nervous disorders.

Here are the criteria for the report's grading: company manager dedicated to safer chemicals; a safer-chemical policy; disclosure of chemicals in products; reducing or eliminating chemicals of high concern within past three years; evaluation of safer alternatives and avoid “regrettable” chemical substitutes; a commitment to transparency and public disclosure; chemical footprint evaluation; and promoting third-party oversight.

Companies received extra credit for working with the authors of the study; publicly joining in the announcement of the study; and advocating for safer chemicals.

The report concluded that only CVS, Walmart and Target are making progress for adopting safer chemical policies. The report praised CVS for developing a cosmetic safety policy and for establishing a list of chemicals of consumer concern. Those chemicals include triclosan, microbeads and formaldehyde.

Triclosan has been linked to endocrine disruption, thyroid hormone changes, and bacterial and antibiotic resistance. It’s showing up in drinking water, and is harmful aquatic ecosystems. Triclosan is found in soaps, toothpaste, deodorant, cosmetics, fabrics and toys. CVS removed triclosan from all of its branded products and most name-brand products in 2015.

Mircobeads are tiny plastic particles used in exfoliating soaps, cosmetics and even toothpaste. Microbeads are nearly impossible to filter and end up in waterways, and ultimately in the food and water supply. Microbeads are being phased out of some personal-care products and some states have their own standards. CVS is phasing out microbeads from its own branded products.

Formaldehyde is preservative found in cosmetics, detergents, wood products, paints, fertilizers and pesticides. High levels of exposure may cause cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). CVS and most major brands have removed formaldehyde from baby shampoos and other baby products.

The report said CVS could improve by setting public, quantifiable goals with timelines and by encouraging its suppliers to meet voluntary third-party standards, such as those set by the EPA.

CVS received high scores for oversight of chemical policies (12 of 15 points); reducing harmful chemical in the past three years (8 of 10 points); dialogue with the study (5 of 5 points); and collaboration (5 of 5 points.) It scored lowest for failing to promote safer products in stores or online (0 of 5 points); efforts to expand its chemical policy (0 of 10 points); adopting third-party standards (0 of 10 points); evaluating its chemical footprint (2.5 of 10 points): and transparency (3.5 out of 15 points).

Amazon, which is on track to become the biggest seller of apparel in the country, earned an F with just 7.5 points. The company was chided for not having a chemical-safety policy and for not requiring suppliers to disclose ingredients.