Under legal pressure by environmentalists, five major retail chains are pulling K2r Spotlifter from the shelves of more than 1,400 California stores because the product does not bear a cancer warning.
Lucky Stores, Alpha Beta, Safeway Stores, Thrifty Drug Stores and Sav-on responded to a complaint filed July 5 by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club under California's Proposition 65. Some of the stores also withdrew certain other products cited in the complaint.
The environmentalist groups charged that K2r and 13 brands of paint stripper and water repellent products contain cancer-causing agents. Under Proposition 65, passed by California voters in 1986, businesses are required to provide a warning to consumers if their products pose a significant health risk of cancer.
K2r--a leading spot-remover produced by the Dow Brands subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co.--contains perchloroethylene, a solvent the state classified as carcinogenic more than two years ago. When K2r and the other products are used, environmentalists said, the solvents evaporate and can be breathed by the person using them. Under the law, violators can face fines of up to $2,500 a day per violation.
"We think this is prompt and responsible action," said David Roe, an Oakland-based attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. "They (the retailers) are protecting customers and they are protecting themselves from legal liability."
But Dow Brands denies the spot remover is hazardous. Company spokesman Richard Parry said Indianapolis-based Dow Brands has conducted tests on the product since the passage of Proposition 65.
"The results show that K2r does not pose a significant risk and consequently does not require a warning," Parry said. "We're aware of Proposition 65 and we think we have lived within the intent and spirit of the law."
Parry said Dow does not consider perchlorethylene to be carcinogenic.
Officials at the Environmental Defense Fund said Dow Brands executives agreed to meet with them in Oakland on Friday.
The Environmental Defense Fund has said it would file suit Sept. 5 if Dow Chemical and the makers of the other 13 products do not either post cancer warnings or remove the solvents. Under Proposition 65, citizens or the state attorney general can bring a civil suit against alleged violators--manufacturers or retailers. The action on the K2r product is the most widespread by retailers since the passage of Proposition 65.
Safeway Stores, headquartered in Oakland, on Monday ordered managers of its 220 California stores to remove K2r.
"Cancer-causing materials must be made known to the public and we had no warning from the manufacturer that the product contained carcinogens," said Debra Lambert, a spokeswoman for Safeway.
Thrifty Drug Stores went a step further--authorizing the removal of the product from its 500 California stores and from 150 stores five other Western states, said James Haight, Thrifty's lawyer. Thrifty is a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Pacific Enterprises.
"If it's dangerous in California, it's dangerous in other states," Haight said.
Hal Pederson, quality-assurance administrator for Lucky Stores, said the chain removed K2r from its 378 California stores immediately after receiving the complaint was filed.
Lucky, based in Dublin, Calif., also coordinated removal of the product from 174 Alpha Beta stores in Southern California and from 165 Sav-on drugstores in the Southland and the Central Valley. Lucky, Alpha Beta and Sav-on are all divisions of American Stores, based in Salt Lake City.
"This is the only recourse we have to protect ourselves, to remove it from our shelves," Pederson said.
Lucky also removed some paint removers from Alpha Beta combination stores in Southern California, products that were among the 14 cited by environmentalists last week.
Those products included Jasco Speedomatic, Jasco Premium Paint and Graffiti Remover, Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover and Jasco Paint Etch.
Other products mentioned in that notice included paint removers from Standard Brands, Sears, Formby's and Zynolyte. Those products were not carried in Lucky, Alpha Beta or Sav-on.
Times Staff Writer Martha Groves contributed to this story in San Francisco