Sales of products containing plastic feedstocks, resins or coatings that contain suspected toxic chemicals are among concerns voiced by corporate shareholders - including some Roman Catholic religious communities - in resolutions filed during the 2008 proxy season.
The resolutions followed high-profile toy and pet-food recalls, as well as recent controversies over chemicals used in water bottles, packaging, cosmetics and other consumer goods.
A record 21 resolutions on product safety have been filed this year, compared with 13 in 2007 and 12 in 2006, according to Falls Church, Va.-based Investor Environmental Health Network, a group of investment managers that encourage companies to adopt safer chemicals policies.
Those resolutions mentioned bisphenol A, PVC and perfluorooctanoic acid as chemicals investors are seeking more information about, according to IEHN's Web site.
Richard Liroff, IEHN founder and executive director, said in an April 29 teleconference that 11 of the 21 resolutions subsequently have been withdrawn, as a result of companies reporting related actions they have planned or already taken to address shareholder concerns.
``Investors and businesses are waking up to the fact today that the risks posed by unaddressed toxic chemicals, and the failure to adequately address them, can jeopardize a company's bottom line and long-term wealth of investors,'' Liroff said.
``The collapse of the retail market for polycarbonate baby and sport bottles containing the chemical BPA, during the last three weeks, vividly illustrates why companies and investors cannot avoid the threats posed by products that are unsafe due to toxic chemicals,'' he said.
One pending resolution, addressed by nonprofit Catholic Healthcare West, of San Francisco, to supermarket giant Kroger Co., contains a reference to BPA.
IEHN singled out Hexion Specialty Chemicals Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, for praise for mentioning in its 2007 annual report scientific studies of BPA and possible costs associated with tighter government regulations.
Liroff said companies that anticipate government regulations of materials - and share possible implications with investors - will fare better than their competitors in the long term.
``The manufacturers of the alternatives to ... [PC] baby bottles can't make their products fast enough because they're racing off the shelves,'' he said, ``They've been positioned very well on this issue, thank you very much, because they saw which way the science was moving and how intensely moms and dads care about the exposure of their very young children to these hazardous chemicals.''
Two pending resolutions - one to Kroger and another from the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia to electronics chain Circuit City - mention PVC.
Already this year, Liroff said, pressure from shareholders has prompted retailers Circuit City, Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Costco to announce phase-outs of PVC products.
Toys R Us recently joined Target Corp., Sears and Wal-Mart in announcing reductions in PVC packaging and products. Toymaker Hasbro Inc. has agreed to include PVC in a broader sustainability dialogue with shareholders.
``They [BPA and PVC controversies] really drive home that companies can't simply fall back on compliance with existing federal law,'' Liroff said. ``Companies really do have to understand the market and understand better the potential market risks if they don't act.''
Officials at the Arlington, Va.-based Vinyl Institute downplayed the effect of such resolutions on manufacturing.
``What we are concerned about is that management of these [retail] companies educate the shareholders about the implications of passing these resolutions on PVC/vinyl applications,'' said Michelle Wesley-Ford, the institute's communications manager, in an April 29 telephone interview. ``They could be cutting off materials that customers still want,'' such as toys and building products.
The pending Kroger resolution also mentions PFOA, a component of fluoropolymers such as Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co.'s Teflon that are used to make nonstick products.
In a May 1 telephone interview, John Heinze, executive director of the Environmental Health Research Foundation in Chantilly, Va., and a senior consultant at the Fluoropolymer Products Information Center of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., said processors have adhered to the EPA's PFOA Stewardship Program.
Under the plan, eight major chemical companies have committed to reduce by 95 percent their facility emissions and product content of PFOA by 2010 and to work toward eliminating PFOA by 2015.
``That makes all of these [resolutions] from a shareholder perspective pointless, because the industry is already proceeding and the industry is fully committed and engaged in reductions and alternatives,'' Heinze said.
Amalgamated Bank of Chicago submitted a resolution to DuPont on the feasibility of phasing out PFOA. The motion was taken out of DuPont's annual proxy statement after consultations with the Securities and Exchange Commission.