Probable Carcinogens Found in Baby Toiletries

Trace amounts of suspected carcinogens have been found in many infant care products by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Cosmetics are virtually unregulated, but that may change due to the uproar about this report. Why similar findings about cosmetics for women have not caused a similar uproar is presumably the same old sad story, the expectation that women should look good in male eyes trumping any concern about health consequences. This story is from the Washington Post

Probable Carcinogens Found in Baby Toiletries
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2009; A04

More than half the baby shampoo, lotion and other infant care products analyzed by a health advocacy group were found to contain trace amounts of two chemicals that are believed to cause cancer, the organization said yesterday.

Some of the biggest names on the market, including Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo and Baby Magic lotion, tested positive for 1,4-dioxane or formaldehyde, or both, the nonprofit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported.

The chemicals, which the Environmental Protection Agency has characterized as probable carcinogens, are not intentionally added to the products and are not listed among ingredients on labels. Instead, they appear to be byproducts of the manufacturing process. Formaldehyde is created when other chemicals in the product break down over time, while 1,4-dioxane is formed when foaming agents are combined with ethylene oxide or similar petrochemicals.

“Our intention is not to alarm parents, but to inform parents that products that claim to be gentle and pure are contaminated with carcinogens, which is completely unnecessary,” said Stacy Malkan, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which is calling for the government to more strictly regulate personal care products such as shampoo, lotion and makeup.

Companies that manufacture and sell the products tested by the group stressed that they comply with government standards.

“The FDA and other government agencies around the world consider these trace levels safe, and all our products meet or exceed the regulatory requirements in every country where they are sold,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement. “We are disappointed that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has inaccurately characterized the safety of our products, misrepresented the overwhelming consensus of scientists and government agencies that review the safety of ingredients, and unnecessarily alarmed parents.”

Health advocates argue, however, that federal regulators have not considered the cumulative effect of chemicals in personal care products.

“The levels we’ve found are relatively low, and the industry often says there’s just a little bit of carcinogen in my product,” Malkan said. “The problem is, we’re finding a little bit of carcinogen in many products. Many of these products are used every day, so we’ve got repeated and frequent exposure to these low levels of chemicals. They’re not the safest and purest products, and parents ought to know that.”

Several Democratic lawmakers said the report is evidence that the nation’s chemical regulation system needs to be changed.

“The fact that we are bathing our kids in products contaminated with carcinogens shows how woefully out of date our cosmetics laws are and how urgently they need to be updated,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.). “The science has moved forward; now the FDA needs to catch up and be given the authority to protect the health of Americans.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) called the findings “horrifying” and said she intends to introduce legislation that would require stronger oversight of the cosmetics industry.

FDA is the lapdog of the pharmaceutical industry. They need to be given the motivation to protect the public health, more than they need the authority. As things stand, FDA is riddled with conflicts of interest, so it goes out of its way to downplay the dangers of industry cutting corners, so industry can claim it has clean hands, following the lax standards FDA sets to give industry wide latitude to make money without having to worry about small amounts of contaminants. The world is so permeated with toxic chemicals already, why worry about trace amounts in cosmetics? Those trace amounts add up, and in combination with all sorts of other toxic exposures, eventually the body burden takes its toll. Life is resilient and somewhat capable of dealing with toxic exposure, but it makes no sense to expose people to avoidable toxic substances so a company can avoid the cost of ensuring its products are non-toxic. Since the natural tendency of a corporation is to maximize its bottom line, and since business rarely faces any consequences from poisoning its customers unless it can be proved that is deliberate and malicious, the precautionary principle must be enforced. The scientific consensus on the lack of danger of trace amounts of carcinogens is not good enough; the conflicts of interest make that consensus highly suspect. Caveat emptor is not good enough either, since most consumers have no way of knowing what they may be ingesting or what it might do to them.

Giving FDA the authority to regulate cosmetics is not good enough either, because FDA bends over backwards to accommodate industry views on safe levels of toxic substances. That a mercury-based preservative was ever allowed in vaccines, and that even after mandating a phaseout, trace amounts of mercury are still allowed in vaccines, demonstrates whose interest FDA protects, and it is not the public. Neither FDA nor EPA has any concern about compact fluorescent light bulbs. What regulatory agency devoted to public health could possibly promote these light bulbs, which are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, but provide poor quality light and contain more than trace amounts of mercury, enough to make a broken light bulb a major health hazard? FDA has a long sordid history of overlooking the dangers of toxic substances, only taking action after the dangers become too obvious to deny.

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