We asked a couple of retailers about toxic chemicals in their products, the answers we got were completely bonkers
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We asked a couple of retailers about toxic chemicals in their products, the answers we got were completely bonkers

Taking on the role of a regular consumer and asking retailers about chemical content in products proved to be surprisingly hard.

Following our recent article where ChemSec co-worker Alice set out to find a PFAS-free frying pan, we decided to email a couple of retailers and ask about chemicals in their products.

The questions we posed were perfectly legitimate.

“Your baby bottle says ‘BPA-free’. Does it include any other bisphenols?”

“Does this frying pan contain any PFAS?”

“Hi, your sofa looks great. Are there any toxic flame retardants in it?”

And so on.

But more often than not, the replies we got lacked traces of actual answers. Instead, they focused on something completely different.

When asked about PFAS, one cookware retailer told us that the frying pan in question belongs to “a series of colourful frying pans that come in different sizes”.

“Wtf? Colourful frying pans in different sizes?! What does that have to do with anything?”

Wtf? Colourful frying pans in different sizes?! What does that have to do with anything?

Another retailer answered that it “does not manufacture PFAS”. No, we know, you don’t manufacture anything. You’re a retailer. Still, it doesn’t answer our question if there are PFAS in the pan or not.

The same retailer continued by assuring us that the frying pan “complies with all regulations in Sweden”.

Well, we sure hope so and that pretty much goes without saying. Our guess is that not many people are expecting retailers to sell illegal products. Or, if that were the case, that they would admit it. “The frying pan you’re asking about is actually illegal in Sweden”.

illegal frying pans

“Hey, I got ‘dem illegal pans.”

On a more serious note, the real problem with the “it-complies-with-all-regulations answer” is that very few toxic chemicals are regulated, including most of the 4,700 PFAS in use today.

What chemical manufacturers do when one PFAS chemical is banned, is that they slightly modify it. By changing something insignificant in the molecule structure, it is technically speaking suddenly a “new” chemical. This way the new chemical can have the same non-stick function and toxic properties as its “cousin”, but still escape regulation.

Moving on to flame retardants and furniture. When asked if these toxic fire-stopping substances could be found in a sleek three-seater sofa we found online, a large furniture company wrote us back a long, complicated, wall of text that would bamboozle even the most seasoned literature professor. We put ChemSec’s Senior Expert in Semantics to work, trying to decipher the lot, and apparently the message said: “We don’t have a clue.”

The final retailer was asked about a baby bottle that was said to be “BPA-free”. When asked if the bottle contained any other bisphenols, they replied; “Yes, it may contain other bisphenols.”

They also recommended us to buy a baby bottle in wood to be on the safe side.