In perhaps the boldest example yet of "retail regulation," Wal-Mart is stepping ahead of federal regulators and using its muscle as the world's largest retailer to move away from a class of chemicals researchers say endanger human health and the environment.
"This really shows the market being able to move more decisively than the government," said Andy Igrejas, national campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of environmental and public health groups pushing for tougher federal chemical laws.
Increasingly, retailers are barring specific chemicals from products in their stores in response to concerns from consumers and advocacy groups. In 2006, for example, Whole Foods became the first national retailer to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from baby bottles and children's cups. Health advocates had raised questions about the safety of BPA, a widely used component in plastic that has been linked to reproductive problems, cancer and other health disorders in laboratory animals. (Id.).
In the absence of federal action, state legislatures have been enacting bans on controversial chemicals, creating a patchwork of restrictions and a regulatory challenge for companies.Several members of Congress have been pushing to reform chemical laws to make it significantly easier for the EPA to restrict or ban chemicals that are known hazards.But retail regulation may prove a faster route, observers say."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."(Id.).