Nearly half the supposedly "natural" or "green" soaps shampoos and other consumer products tested by the Organic Consumers Association have an ingredient that could cause cancer, according to a new report. See the list.
The chemical, 1,4-dioxane, is derived from petrochemicals and is classified as a "probable human carcinogen" by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is about as close to a smoking gun as a government bureaucracy gets. Still, no one knows exactly how much is enough to cause cancer, and the only studies have involved laboratory animals in conditions that aren't directly comparable to small exposure daily during, say, washing in the shower.
It's either a case of misleading labeling run amok, or buyer beware. In an era when green is in, greenwashing of toxic or environmentally destructive products is rampant. But it's also a reminder that toxicity is a tricky issue, and ridding your daily life of all potential carcinogens is impossible.
The terms "green," "natural," and even "organic" (if not accompanied by the USDA-certified seal) are unregulated, so manufacturers and marketers have free rein in using them by their own definition. The OCA recommends reading the label carefully, even (especially) on any product labeled to appeal to the green consumer. You won't find 1,4-dioxane on any labels, but look for polyethylene glycol or compounds with the syllables PEG, short for polyethylene glycol, -eth or -oxynol-, according to the FDA.
"Many items that tested positive for the carcinogen are well-known brands, including Kiss My Face, Alba, Seventh Generation and Nature's Gate products, sold in retail stores across the nation," according to the Los Angeles Times. ... "The compound is not intentionally added to products; it is a byproduct of a process used to soften harsh detergents. It is formed when foaming agents, or surfactants, are processed with ethylene oxide or similar petrochemicals."
According to the Times several prominent brands, including Seventh Generation and Hain Celestial Group, are aware of the chemical and trying to find ways to reduce its prevalence in their products.
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