Could dollar store ‘bargains’ be poisoning your kids?

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HOUSTON, TX-- Dollar stores are a great place to buy things super cheap, but did you know some of the stuff they're selling could be poisoning your kids? That's what the Environmental Justice Health Alliance says, after testing several dollar store products children would come into contact with.

Six states purchased and tested different products  from four different dollar store chains-- Family Dollar, Dollar General, 99 Cents Only and Dollar Tree. Of the 164 items tested, they found 133 contained at least one hazardous chemical. That's 81 percent!

One of the worst offenders included a $2 set of toy plastic earrings from Family Dollar. Kids' products are not supposed to have more than 100 parts-per-million of lead in them. These seemingly harmless earrings had 6548 ppm.

Other items like children's backpacks featuring Minnie Mouse and the Avengers were found to contain high levels of chlorides and PVCs, infamous for giving off dioxins, some of the most toxic chemicals around. The EPA says there is no safe level of exposure to them.

$2 vinyl headbands at Dollar General were found to contain high levels of phthalates, endocrine disruptors which at high levels have been known to cause young girls to menstruate early and pregnant women to give birth to kids with lower capacity for learning. For the full list of items tested, click here.

Yudith Nieto is a volunteer with TEJAS, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services here in Houston, who helped organize this Campaign for Healthier Solutions. She says putting these products in discount stores unfairly targets low-income communities like her own in the East End. "These communities are already overburdened by the pollution due to the industry that's surrounding their communities. So not only are they overburdened by the contaminants that are in the air and their water," she says, "they're also now purchasing products that have high levels of those chemicals."

While informing communities about this study, TEJAS has met with some pushback from residents who didn't understand their intentions.  "We're not trying to boycott the dollar stores or close them down," Nieto explains. Why would they? For some low-income areas, dollar stores are the only place to shop, with no other retail or grocery stores nearby. "We're just trying to (reach out to consumers and) educate them about what is in those products and how to be more conscious and aware of what we're purchasing."

Nieto says some of the dollar stores did respond to the study, "What they said was their products do go through rigorous testing and they are making sure that their products do not have high levels of chemicals, but the testing that we did proved otherwise."

So beware-- when everything's a dollar, you just might be getting more than you bargained for.

For more on this story, pick up a copy of this month's Houstonia.