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Company: Walmart
Subject: Nanomaterial Product Safety
Year: 2008
Sector: Retail Multi-Line
Lead Filer: As You Sow Foundation
Outcome: Omitted, per SEC

Whereas:
The scientific community has raised serious questions about the safety of nanomaterials. The term “nanomaterials” refers to operative particles smaller than 1000 nanometers (nm). A nanometer measures one-billionth of a meter – by comparison a human hair is 100,000 nm across.

The ability of nanoparticles to be absorbed through the skin and to access the bloodstream remains poorly understood. Laboratory studies report that many types of nanoparticles interfere with normal cellular function and cause oxidative damage and cell death.

Some consumer products that incorporate nanomaterials are likely to be used by children and pregnant or nursing women. Moreover, personal care products are often inadvertently ingested or formulated with penetration enhancers that increase the delivery of chemicals to the bloodstream.

Potential dangers from exposure to nanomaterials are not limited to consumers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has launched a multi-year program of additional research to assess potential risks to workers. In addition, nanomaterials used in cosmetics, anti-aging skin creams and sunscreens have been reported in laboratory studies to be much more toxic to aquatic life than their normal-scale counterparts under identical test conditions.

Given recent scientific findings, proponents believe companies that use nanomaterials in consumer products may face significant financial, liability and reputational risks.

Carbon nanotubes, for example, are similar in shape and rigidity to asbestos fibers – probably the most notorious commercial product from a liability standpoint. At least five laboratories have independently reported that carbon nanotubes cause progressive, irreversible lung damage in test rodents. Even more so than asbestos, nanomaterials possess qualities (shape, size, chemical reactivity) that have the potential to make them especially dangerous.

Proponents believe nanomaterials are sold to the public at large without adequate testing to ensure safety, and often without any notice or warning of their presence or potential hazard, placing manufacturers in potential peril. Tort claims, especially strict liability defective product claims, are most likely to emerge following exposure to nanomaterials used in consumer products, where the greatest numbers of people are likely to experience the largest degree of exposure.

Proponents believe that the best way to protect the public and to prevent unnecessary litigation-related financial losses may be to avoid producing products with nanomaterials unless they have been subject to robust evaluation for human health and environmental safety, and to label all products that contain nanomaterials.

Resolved: Shareholders request that the Board publish a report to shareholders on Wal-Mart's policies on nanomaterial product safety, at reasonable expense and omitting proprietary information, by June 2008.

Supporting Statement: Proponents believe the report should (1) provide a summary list of any product categories sold in Wal-Mart stores and clubs for which the management has been informed by manufacturers or distributors that some products contain nanomaterials, and (2) discuss any new initiatives or actions, aside from regulatory compliance, that management is taking to respond to this public policy challenge.


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