Children's bath products tainted with probable carcinogens

Posted by bdaley March 16, 2009

By Beth Daley, Globe Staff

UPDATE: I've been inundated with requests where to find safer products. Read to the end of the blog for info from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics about that question.

Dozens of children’s bath products sold across New England are tainted with chemicals the federal government say are likely carcinogens, a new report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow say.

Despite label claims like “gentle” and “pure”, the bath products can contain formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane that the federal government say “may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen.” Formaldehyde can also cause skin rashes in children. Lax label laws do not require the chemicals to be listed on product labels. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that "the presence of 1,4-dioxane, even as a trace contaminant, is cause for concern."

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics commissioned an independent laboratory to test 48 products for 1,4-dioxane; 28 of those products were also tested for formaldehyde. The lab found that:
• 17 out of 28 products tested - 61 percent - contained both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane; these included Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, Sesame Street Bubble Bath, Grins & Giggles Milk & Honey Baby Wash and Huggies Naturally Refreshing Cucumber & Green Tea Baby Wash.
• 23 out of 28 products - 82 - percent contained formaldehyde at levels ranging from 79 parts per million (ppm) to 610 ppm. Baby Magic Baby Lotion had the highest levels of formaldehyde.
• 32 out of 48 products - 67 - percent contained 1,4-dioxane at levels ranging from 0.27 ppm to 35 ppm. American Girl shower products had the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane.

The study is the first to document the widespread presence of both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane in bath products for children.

A spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, Iris Grossman, told USA Today that the company's products are safe and meet or exceed all regulations.
Formaldehyde is banned from personal care products in Japan and Sweden. The European Union bans 1,4-dioxane from personal care products and has recalled products found to contain the chemical. But unlike many other countries, the U.S. government does not limit formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, or most other hazardous substances in personal care products.

"The reality of today's world is that we, humans, have contaminated our environment and poisoned ourselves. Not intentionally, but due to our industrial ingenuity, our carelessness, and our unwillingness to study and regulate what we expose ourselves and our environment to," said Dr. Sean Palfrey, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and former president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Many products tested by the Campaign, including baby shampoo, bubble bath and baby lotion, contained both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, as well as other toxic chemicals.

UPDATE: Here is info from Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

Contrary to industry statements, there are no regulatory standards that limit formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane or most other toxic chemicals in personal care products sold in the United States. There are signs the U.S. is gearing to catch up, but for now it's up to consumers to consider carefully before they buy. Here's some suggestions for safeguarding your family's health:
Simplify: Select products with fewer ingredients and no synthetic fragrance or dyes, and use fewer products overall.
Choose safety: Search Environmenal Working Group's cosmetic safety database, Skin Deep, to learn more about the products you use and find safer alternatives. Also check out EWG's Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products.
Read labels: Select products for baby and yourself that don't contain the ingredients listed above, which are commonly contaminated with formaldehyde or 1,4-dioxane. (see below)
Take action! Can’t memorize these lists? Nobody can. If harmful contaminants and ingredients weren’t allowed in products, you wouldn’t have to. Tell Congress you want safe cosmetics for babies, adults and everyone in between.
Spread the word: Send an e-card letting friends and family know about this report.

Where These Chemicals Come From
Formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane were not disclosed on product labels because they're contaminants, not ingredients, and therefore are exempt from labeling laws.

Formaldehyde contaminates personal care products when common preservatives release formaldehyde over time in the container. Common ingredients likely to contaminate products with formaldehyde include quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea and diazolidinyl urea.

1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of a chemical processing technique called ethoxylation, in which cosmetic ingredients are processed with ethylene oxide. Manufacturers can easily remove the toxic byproduct, but are not required by law to do so. Common ingredients likely to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane include PEG-100 stearate, sodium laureth sulfate, polyethylene and ceteareth-20.
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