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There was a time when “dollar store” conjured images of dusty shelves heaped with expired off-brand items, but those days are largely in the past. That said, Consumer Reports advises using care when shopping at these stores. In the past few years, even while smart-money experts have come up with lists of things you should definitely buy there, reports from clean-environment advocates and grassroots consumer watchdog organizations have identified toxic items found in dollar stores.
Here are some to watch out for—especially if you’re shopping for your kids.
1. Plastic food containers
Although they’re considered a bargain at dollar stores, and they’re super convenient in terms of organizing your kitchen, plastic food containers may contain pthalates, which cause reproductive problems in lab animals and are found in high levels, especially in women, in the U.S. population. Over 30 percent of some dollar store products tested had higher levels than are recommended in products used for children. They may also contain bisphenol-S (BPS)—which you’ll find in many BPA-free products and which might be just as dangerous as BPA—the chemical just hasn’t been researched as much.
2. Plastic wrap and packaged foods
Like plastic food containers, wraps and the plastic commercial packaging on food products from candies to meats may contain pthalates and BPS. With that in mind, you may want to rethink your use of plastic wrap altogether.
3. Toys made before 2008
Just because an item doesn’t have an expiration date doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy it. Sometimes dollar stores sell factory closeouts, which means their stock may be old and should not be purchased. For example, plastic toys made before 2008 are more likely to contain pthalates than toys made since 2008, the year that pthalates were banned from being included in children’s toys.
4. Anything vinyl
Pthalates are also used in just about everything made out of vinyl—they keep the vinyl flexible. At the dollar store, you are very likely to see vinyl placemats, shower curtains, bibs, backpacks, novelty watchbands, mattress covers and pool toys.
5. Power cords and other electronic accessories
When Healthy Stuff, a project of the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tested a variety of dollar store items for toxic chemicals, they gave Dollar General an F on their report card. Among other things, they found that many electronic accessories such as USB cords, cell phone chargers and extension cords tested high in chlorine, a toxic chemical of concern and also a sign that the items are made from vinyl. You might want to stick to electronics stores for these accessories.
6. Certain cleaning products
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen found in a variety of cleaning products, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To avoid toxic chemicals altogether, pick up some baking soda at the dollar store and use it for these clever ways you can clean with it.
7. Some personal care products
Speaking of formaldehyde, this list also contains personal care products you are likely to find in dollar stores that may contain formaldehyde, especially if they are factory closeouts. Some of the more recognizable brands include Irish Spring, SoftSoap and even Gerber.
8. Fruit juices
We all know that arsenic is acutely poisonous, but inorganic arsenic is also a suspected carcinogen, even in smaller doses found in certain fruit juices.
9. Styrofoam cups and plates
Styrene is a known carcinogen. It’s widely used in the manufacturing of styrofoam cups, plates and packing peanuts—and a lot of other household goods. Here’s a list of some styrene-containing products.
10. Black plastic kitchen utensils
Bromine, which is linked to cancer and birth defects, is a component in some flame retardants. It’s been banned, but it may have made its way into cheaper, older versions of the ubiquitous black plastic kitchen utensils. It’s best to avoid buying these in the dollar store: stick with stainless steel or wooden utensils instead.
11. Bug spray
No one likes a pantry pest, but if you try to eliminate them using chemical pesticides, you may be increasing your risk of cancer. Chemical pesticides are also found in flea collars and tick-repellents. Some natural oils seem to repel ticks and are also safe for people and pets. Peppermint, thyme, eucalyptus and cedar oil are a few.
Want to know more? Another helpful dollar store report lists, in detail, specific dollar-store products that may be hazardous to your health.