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Sears/Kmart Become Latest Retail Giants to Phase Out Toxic PVC Plastic

Sparked by a national campaign led by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), together with a coalition of health and environmental organizations, today Sears Holdings (Sears and Kmart) has announced its plans to begin phasing out products and packaging containing the toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, commonly known as vinyl. Sears and Kmart join Wal-Mart and Target, in reducing and phasing out PVC in products and packaging. Target's policy was just announced last month. Sears Holdings, the publicly traded parent of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co., is the nation's sixth-largest retailer with over $50 billion in annual revenues and approximately 3,800 retail stores in the United States and Canada.*

Sears Holdings has announced it is working to reduce and phase out PVC in its packaging and merchandise, including encouraging vendors to label their PVC-free merchandise. Additionally, Sears is working to identify safer, more sustainable and cost-effective alternatives to PVC and incorporate them into the design and manufacturing process for private label merchandise and packaging.

CHEJ is buoyed by Sears' efforts and applauds its willingness to recognize the harm that can be caused by PVC for all who come in contact with the PVC life cycle, from workers making the products, communities located near PVC chemical plants, and consumers purchasing them, and to those living near landfills and incinerators where the products are ultimately discarded.

"When you mention Sears to someone, especially at Christmas time, it elicits memories of the Sears catalogue and toy shopping; Sears holds a place in America's collective memory," said Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. "It is fitting, right, and proper then, that Sears Holdings has been willing not only to recognize the potential dangers and harm caused by some of the products it currently sells, but has made the right decision to begin ridding its stores of this toxic PVC material."

Advancing its mission to prevent health-related harm to individuals and the environment, CHEJ has been campaigning vigorously to educate retailers and the public about the dangers associated with PVC plastic. In March, 2006, CHEJ authored a letter signed by over sixty coalition members, asking Sears Holdings to sign a PVC-free pledge. Since receiving that letter, Sears Holdings representatives began holding good-faith discussions with CHEJ and other coalition members, resulting in today's major announcement. Sears Holdings was also contacted by a coalition of shareholders led by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who filed a resolution at the company raising concerns about PVC. The resolution was later withdrawn when the company signaled a willingness to engage in dialog with shareholders.

"Money talks and I hope that the vinyl companies polluting my community of Mossville, Louisiana are listening to Sears and Kmart, who will stop selling vinyl products and using vinyl packaging," said Edgar Mouton, Jr., President of Mossville Environmental Action Now, an environmental justice organization. Located in southwest Louisiana, Mossville is an unincorporated African American community that is surrounded by five vinyl production facilities, the largest concentration in the United States. Health studies conducted by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry show that Mossville residents are exposed to elevated levels of dioxin, which is a by-product of vinyl manufacturing.

CHEJ PVC Campaign Coordinator Mike Schade has been working to educate numerous companies and consumers regarding the dangers of PVC plastic since 2005. As a result of these efforts in the PVC phase-out campaign, the PVC campaign was awarded a Business Ethics "Benny" award this fall and Mr. Schade was ranked fifty-one on a list of the top 100 most influential people in business ethics. "We welcome and applaud Sears Holdings' new PVC phase-out policy, which will go a long way in protecting workers, communities, and consumers from the poison plastic," said Schade. "We look forward to working with the company to develop a plan to fully implement it. Sears' decision signals a major trend in the retail sector as Target and Wal-Mart have also developed policies to reduce or phase out PVC. The writing is on the wall for PVC - it's on its way out and safer alternatives are in."

Recent reports indicate that the world stock of PVC in use contains 3.2 million tons of lead. Lead can damage the brain and nervous system, cause behavior, learning and developmental disabilities, and decreased IQ. Previous testing has detected lead in a broad range of PVC consumer products including toys, lunchboxes, baby bibs, jewelry, garden hoses, mini blinds, Christmas trees, and electronics.

A report released just last week found that almost one half of all toys tested are made out of PVC, which often contains phthalates. Exposure to phthalates have been linked with premature birth delivery, early puberty in girls, impaired sperm quality and sperm damage in men, genital defects, and reduced testosterone production in boys. Over ninety percent of all phthalates are used in PVC products and are often found in many toys such as rubber duckies and bath books.

"PVC plants have contaminated the air and water of surrounding communities with highly hazardous chemicals such as vinyl chloride and dioxins," said Professor Peter Orris, MD MPH, Professor and Chief of Service at the University of Illinois Medical Center Chicago. "These chemicals can cause cancer and other serious health problems for neighbors in surrounding communities."

Sears and Kmart are joining a growing list of dozens of companies including Target, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Apple that are eliminating or reducing their PVC products and packaging. In addition to Target's recent announcement, Wal-Mart reached its two-year deadline in October to eliminate PVC from the packaging of its private brand products.

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