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Wal-Mart takes the lead in fighting toxins - who's next?

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The Wal-Mart company logo is seen outside a Wal-Mart Stores Inc company distribution center in Bentonville, Arkansas June 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Wal-Mart, the country’s largest retailer, recently announced that it would require suppliers to disclose and eventually phase out nearly 10 hazardous chemicals from fragrances, cosmetics, personal care products and household cleaners sold at its stores nationwide.

The company declined to name specific chemicals as it familiarizes suppliers with the new policy, but noted it would apply the same standard to its own line of cleaning products.

This is not because of people like me, who have for years been sounding alarms about the harmful health effects of dangerous chemicals in scores of products used in the home. This is because of you, and millions of other consumers, demanding better with your wallets – because you know better, because you expect better. And now, at least in Wal-Mart, you’ll get better.

Wal-Mart’s announcement comes on the heels of California’s new Safer Consumer Products regulations (which I wrote about last month) which will require manufacturers to seek safer alternatives to the harmful chemical ingredients currently found in commonly used products.

Wal-Mart and the state of California might be motivated by different goals (profit versus public health), but their decisions to take on toxic chemicals are similar in scope. California is the most populous state in the country and Wal-Mart is the largest retailer. If manufacturers want to do business with either, they’ll be forced to make some serious changes to their hazardous products currently on the market.

This is cause for celebration, but also for continued concern – why aren’t more local or state governments following suit? Of even greater concern – why isn’t the federal government leading the way? If elected officials took this issue seriously and banned certain known carcinogens found in everyday products, it would send a message not only to manufacturers but also to citizens that just because a product lines the shelves at a popular store like Wal-Mart, it’s not necessarily safe.

Instead, Wal-Mart has stepped up, and for this they are to be commended, particularly in light of a report released last month by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Among other recommendations, the report suggests doctors ask mothers-to-be about their exposure to different chemicals, and urges health care professionals to teach women how to avoid substances considered most worrisome during pregnancy.

Let’s hope more retailers follow in Wal-Mart’s footsteps, and that Wal-Mart delivers on its substantial promise. Meanwhile, be your own regulator. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Top Tips for Safer Products, a list of dangerous chemical ingredients that will help you interpret confusing product labels as you navigate the aisle in your local drugstore.

For now, you have to do the work – but being a smarter, more informed consumer will pay dividends in the long run.

Note: Information provided herein is not intended to treat or diagnose any health condition. As always, consult your healthcare provider with any questions or health concerns.

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health, www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com, and Fox Business Channel. Check out her website at www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org  and 'Like' her Facebook page here.