By Natasha Murmu
Science and Environment Editor
Photo by Montreal Souterrain
Let’s admit it: With Dollarama so conveniently located a couple steps away from our school, it’s tempting to grab a quick snack from there in between classes. If you need a last-minute birthday gift, or if you forgot your headphones at home, no need to worry! The Alexis Nihon dollar store’s got you. However, recent studies might make you reconsider shopping there.
Out of the dozens of products tested by Environmental Defence, including toys, food, and household supplies, 1 in 4 contain toxic substances regulated by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. In several products, the quantities of toxins exceed the allowable surface limits. In others, they are within the permissible limits, but ED states that these limits aren’t low enough.
A study by the organization revealed that Dollarama and Dollar Tree stores in Canada sell products containing 3000 to 8000 times the recommended surface amount of lead. A test on a pair of headphones revealed that its solder contained 170 times the limit of lead for the outside of products. For the inner components of a pair of earbuds, this limit was exceeded by 300000%.
In addition, the metal inside electronic toys like Disney headphones and fart guns was found to contain up to 70% lead. High exposure to the substance, especially at a young age, causes significant cognitive and developmental delays. In adults, it increases the risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. These adverse effects on health are why lead has been banned from use in gasoline, food cans, and paint.
Although up to 90mg/kg of lead is allowed on the surface of products, ED’s Toxics Senior Program Manager Cassie Barker states that “There is no safe limit on lead. Children’s products should not contain this hazardous substance.” Even if the bulk of it is found in the internal structure of products, these items can break down with use, and they do, thus exposing the lead-laced parts. “The way that kids use products, and you know they break things, and so that internal (lead) quickly becomes external lead,” Barker confirms.
There is a lack of regulation concerning the amount of lead allowed on the interior parts of consumer products, which, according to ED, must be addressed. This loophole is why stores like Dollarama can get away with selling products containing such high amounts of the toxic substance.
In addition to lead, plasticizers are found in clips, dolls, pony toys, and fake teeth meant to be worn in mouths. These substances can affect hormone systems, including testosterone levels, genital development, and sperm counts. They have also been shown to cause cardiovascular, reproductive diseases, and cancer.
Not only are harmful compounds found in objects, but there is a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the food on Dollarama’s shelves. One such chemical is bisphenol A, which causes prostate disease, breast cancer, infertility, as well as behavioural problems in children. Although it’s banned from plastic baby products, it’s allowed in food cans. Barker reports that 60% of cans contain BPA, and 40% contain PVC and polyester resin, all detrimental to human health.
Along with BPAs, microwave popcorn bags tested positive for PFAs, also known as “forever chemicals,” which cause a plethora of cognitive issues. The presence of BPA in containers is a problem because it can leach into the food. According to Louise Hénault-Ethier, director of the Eau Terre Environnement Research Center, "If bisphenols are exposed to acids, such as tomato juice, or to heat, because they are heated, they will tend to detach and migrate into food."
Even the store’s receipts contain harmful substances. All test samples from Dollarama contained bisphenol S, a relative of BPA that can cause reproductive issues. The ETERC confirms that the receipts “should not be handled hundreds of times by cashiers and given to each customer.”
If so many items distributed by Dollarama are detrimental to public health, why isn’t it common knowledge? Environmental Defence says "many of these ingredients and formulations are considered 'trade secrets”
Unfortunately, according to Baker, Dollarama’s lack of concern for safety disproportionately affects lower-income households and marginalized communities, who shop there more often by necessity. However, it’s a source of concern for all consumers regardless of socioeconomic status, because all shoppers deserve transparency on the contents of the products they’re buying.
Dollarama’s response to the studies doesn’t acknowledge that the company distributes harmful products nor does it indicate that it’s willing to change anything about it. In response to LaPresse’s questions, it answered "Consumer product safety is our utmost priority and we have strict processes and controls in place to monitor product safety and quality. [Our products] meet applicable Canadian product regulations and are safe to use for their intended purposes."
Following the study conducted in dollar stores, ED calls on Environment Canada to require companies to label all hazardous ingredients in products, including those inside electronics and used in the packaging. Furthermore, the organization vouches for more regulatory enforcement and product testing in order to identify harmful products before they are sold.
There is hope things will change, as a similar study conducted in the United States two years ago prompted Dollar Tree to remove 17 chemicals from its products. Due to increased public awareness of the topic, government officials have started to take action. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which oversees the use of toxic chemicals, will be updated.