Watchdog Group Sues Companies After Finding Banned Carcinogen In Shampoos

An environmental group in California is filing lawsuits against at least four companies after a lab found unsafe levels of a known carcinogen in their products.
By @katierucke |
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    ']);">Oakland, Calif. based Center for Environmental Health announced it had found known carcinogens is 98 shampoos, soaps and other personal care products sold by major national retailers. (Photo/Martin Roell via Flickr)

    Oakland, Calif. based Center for Environmental Health announced it had found known carcinogens is 98 shampoos, soaps and other personal care products sold by major national retailers. (Photo/Martin Roell via Flickr)

    On Tuesday, the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced it had found a known cancer-causing chemical in 98 shampoos, soaps and other personal care products sold by major national retailers. After the discovery, CEH filed a lawsuit in California against four companies that sold the tainted products and announced plans to sue more if companies don’t remove the chemical from its products.

    The carcinogen the group found after conducting independent tests on hair and personal care products is cocamide diethanolamine, also known as cocamide DEA, which is a chemically-modified form of coconut oil that has been “used as a thickener or foaming agent in many products.”

    Exposure to the chemical results in a more than 1-in-100,000 chance a person will develop cancer, according to CEH calculations.

    The group filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court against Walgreens, Lake Consumer Products, Vogue International and Ultimark Products, and accused the four companies of selling products that contained a known carcinogen.

    As of Wednesday morning, none of the four companies had responded to the lawsuits against them.

    In addition to the lawsuits, CEH also sent legal notices to more than 100 other companies that produce or sell products containing cocamide DEA-tainted products, since the products are in violation of California law.

    Last June, California classified the chemical as a known carcinogen under Proposition 65 after an assessment was made by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which tested the effects of the chemical on animals.

    “Most people believe that products sold in major stores are tested for safety, but consumers need to know that they could be doused with a cancer-causing chemical every time they shower or shampoo,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “We expect companies to take swift action to end this unnecessary risk to our children’s and families’ health.”

    CEH told the San Francisco Chronicle that if the 100-some companies that make or sell these products don’t remove the chemical, it would file a lawsuit against them as well.

    “I don’t think anybody wants to add one more thing to the list of cancer-causing chemicals that we’re exposed to,” said Caroline Cox, the Center for Environmental Health’s research director. “There’s lots of ways to make shampoo without it. This is one we don’t really need.”

    CEH said it purchased the shampoos, bubble baths, hand washes, shower gels, body washes and body scrubs from major retailers such as Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Glamour Beauty Supply, Target, Sephora, Ulta and Kohl’s, as well as some online retailers, and commissioned an independent lab to determine how much cocamide-DEA was in the products.

    In a press release, the group reported of the products tested, about 98 percent were found to have cocamide DEA. In many cases, the products contained more than 10,000 parts per million (ppm) cocamide DEA, and one shampoo — which the group did not identify — tested at more than 20,000 ppm, or about 20 percent of the ingredients used in that product.

    Especially concerning for the group was that cocamide DEA was found in products that had been marketed for children such as bubble bath products, and some were falsely labeled as organic. CEH said that many of the inaccurately labeled organic products came from Organic by Africa’s Best, which is a company CEH has previously filed lawsuits against for using phony organic labels.

    When California banned the chemical last year, companies had one year to remove cocamide DEA from its products. The state has yet to determine a limit for the amount of cocamide DEA in consumer products, but CEH says the tests showed most products have levels of the chemical that are “way above” the state’s general standard for carcinogens.

    A full list of the tainted products and retailers can be found here.

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