California Sues ‘Natural' Companies Over Carcinogen in Soaps

SACRAMENTO, California, June 10, 2008 (ENS) - California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has filed a lawsuit against companies that manufacture or distribute body care and household cleaning products that have tested highest for the carcinogenic chemical 1,4-dioxane. The lawsuit was filed May 29 in the Alameda County Superior Court.

Named as defendants are Avalon Natural Products, which makes the Alba brand products; Beaumont Products which makes VeggieWash and Clearly Natural brands; Nutribiotic, which makes grapefruit seed extract personal care products; and Whole Foods Market California, Inc., which sells the Whole Foods 365 brand.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction and civil penalties to remedy defendants' failure to warn consumers that cleaning products such as body washes and gels and liquid dish soaps containing l ,4-dioxane sold by defendants expose consumers to chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer.

Under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, Health and Safety Code section 25249.6, usually called "Proposition 65," businesses must provide persons with a "clear and reasonable warning" before exposing them to such chemicals.

The chemical 1,4-dioxane was listed under Proposition 65 as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer on January 1, 1988.

The California attorney general alleges that each defendant has known since at least May 29, 2004 that the body washes and gels and liquid dish soaps contain l ,4-dioxane and that persons using these products are exposed to the chemical.

In addition to violating Proposition 65, the lawsuit alleges that each defendant has engaged in unlawful business practices which constitute unfair competition.

The defendant companies face maximum fines of $2,500 per day for each violation.

The defendants' products were tested in a study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association, OCA, and released in March. The study analyzed "natural" and "organic" brand shampoos, body washes, lotions and other personal care products for the presence of 1,4-dioxane.

Results for all products tested is online here.

A reputable third-party laboratory known for rigorous testing and chain-of-custody protocols, performed the testing, the Organic Consumers Association says.

The chemical at issue in the lawsuit, 1,4-dioxane, is typically produced as a byproduct when ingredients are processed with the petrochemical ethylene oxide, which has become standard practice for many cleansing and moisturizing products.

"The OCA's 1,4-dioxane study elevated the issue of fake 'natural' and 'organic' brands that utilize petrochemicals in their formulas in March, and now we are seeing labeling enforcement on a scale never seen before," says the association's National Director Ronnie Cummins.

"We used an independent laboratory and found that numerous 'natural' and 'organic' brands tested positive for 1,4-dioxane, a cancer-causing contaminant resulting from the petrochemical ethylene oxide being attached to one or more ingredients," Cummins said.

Last week, the Organic Consumers Association sent a letter to the four companies named in the lawsuit asking if they are planning changes to their labeling or product formulations. Only one company responded.

In a letter to the association Beaumont Products of Kennesaw, Georgia wrote, "Upon being notified that there was a problem with our product, we verified that the problem existed, then took immediate action."

Beaumont says they have reformulated their products to remove the problem ingredient.

"These companies need to stop treating the inclusion of cancer causing chemicals in their products as business as usual and reformulate before consumer confidence in the natural products and organics industry is permanently damaged," says consumer activist David Steinman, who conducted the OCA study and exposed the presence of 1,4-dioxane in baby bubble bath products in his book "Safe Trip to Eden."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers 1,4-dioxane as "reasonably anticipated" to be a human carcinogen.

Few studies are available that provide information about the effects of 1,4-dioxane in humans. Exposure to very high levels of 1,4-dioxane can result in liver and kidney damage and death. Eye and nose irritation was reported by people inhaling low levels of 1,4-dioxane vapors for short periods up to several hours.

Studies in animals have shown that breathing, ingesting, or skin contact with 1,4-dioxane can result in liver and kidney damage.

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