Whole Foods, Other Firms Sued for Carcinogen inJun 13, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
California's state attorney general—Jerry Brown—filed suit against four manufacturers—Whole Foods Market Inc., Avalon Natural Products, Beaumont Products Inc., and NutriBiotic—for failing to label soap products containing 1,4-dioxane, a potentially cancer-causing chemical. The suit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court in late May and did not name the specific body washes, gels, and liquid dish soaps that allegedly contain 1,4-dioxane. Under Proposition 65, companies must label products that contain chemicals known to the state to cause cancer. Each violation carries civil penalties of as much as $2,500 a day.
1,4-Dioxane is a petroleum-derived contaminant considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a definite animal carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program. It is also on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected by the state to cause cancer or birth defects.
This week, Deputy Attorney General Susan Fiering said, "We've been talking with all four of them and we're hoping that the end result of this is an effort to reformulate to get the dioxane out of the product. We think that would be the best possible result for everyone." Eighteen other companies were also warned that some of their products contained the chemical, Fiering said.
Libba Letton, spokeswoman for Whole Foods, said, "We have conducted our own investigation into the allegations that some of our products contain 1,4-dioxane and do not believe these products represent a health risk or are in excess of California's Proposition 65 safe harbor level for 1,4-dioxane. We're cooperating with the attorney general's office to resolve the claims as quickly as possible."
Meanwhile, last month, Stephen Sundlof, head of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, which oversees cosmetics, urged lawmakers to focus on risky products and better use of private inspections. Democrats said the FDA has even less power over cosmetic products, which have gone largely unregulated for decades—the industry is overseen by rules enacted 70 years ago and the FDA has only reviewed 11 percent of related ingredients and banned or restricted only 10 types that posed safety risks. About $62 billion in personal products are sold in the US annually and the number of imported products has tripled since 2000 and is expected to grow, said Sundlof who also acknowledged that regulating cosmetics has become a challenge as more products "straddle the line between cosmetics and drugs."
"I think improving oversight authority of cosmetics is long overdue," said Representative Jan Schakowsky (Illinois-Democrat). Sundlof acknowledged only one-third of all US cosmetic makers are registered with the FDA and said companies are responsible for ensuring safety before marketing products. Unlike drugs or devices, cosmetics are not approved by the FDA prior to being placed on the market.
And, earlier this year, we reported that women are believed to apply about 175 chemicals from creams and cosmetics to their skin daily. And, while we don’t generally worry about using over-the-counter (OTC) creams, some can cause adverse reactions and death in some people. Skin is designed to protect the body; however, when strong chemicals meet sensitive or thin skin, they can cause an allergic reaction, or dangerously flood the bloodstream.