Carcinogen 1,4-Dioxane in Natural & Organic Products, and Lawsuits

I was doing a healthy home consult with a couple expecting a baby, and they had made a lot of changes to reduce toxic chemical exposures.  Organic fruits and vegetables, organic mattress, and greener cleaners and greener personal care products.  But, in looking at their personal care products, I realized that they weren’t aware of the issue regarding 1,4-dioxane contaminated in products with ethoxylated ingredients.  When I brought it up, they were very surprised and wanted to know more.  We also talked about the ongoing litigation on the subject.  And thus a blog topic was born.

So what’s the issue?  1,4-dioxane is a probable human carcinogen, as classified by the EPA.  Not what you expect in personal care products, and also not what you expect in Johnson’s Head to Toe Baby Wash.  But, unfortunately, it is present in some personal care products and cleaning products, including every parent’s staple – Johnson’s Head to Toe Baby Wash.  Why?  1,4-dioxane is a by-product of the ethoxylation process.  What that means is that if ingredients are ethoxylated – literally ethylene oxide added to make certain ingredients “milder” – 1,4-dioxane is generated as a by product, and becomes a contaminant.  As a contaminant or manufacturing by product, it is NOT identified on the product’s ingredient list.

The Organic Consumers Association released a study that found 1,4-dioxane in many “natural” or “organic” products, including JASON Pure & Natural Organic, Giovanni Organic Cosmetics, Kiss My Face and Nature’s Gate Organics.  And litigation has resulted as discussed below.

Should you be concerned about low level exposure to 1,4-dioxane?  Well, I think it comes back to being safe rather than sorry.  And also not feeling ripped off paying for so called organic or natural products.  But, 1,4-dioxane is “readily absorbed through the lungs, skin and gastrointestinal tract of mammals.”  What that means is that you can expect to absorb 1,4-dioxane through your skin if you apply a personal care product containing it.

So, the couple wanted to avoid 1,4-dioxane, and were peeved to have spent money thinking that they were buying better products only to find out that they weren’t getting what they wanted. 

And that’s at least part of the basis of the suit filed by Dr. Bronner’s against some of the natural or organic manufacturers.  You can check out the complaint if you are interested.  Dr. Bronner’s sued The Hain Celestial Group, Kiss My Face, Levlad, Estee Lauder and other for labeling or advertising their products as “organic” or “made with organic ingredients” although they contain the synthetic carcinogen 1,4-dioxane as a result of the ethoyxlation process.  Dr. Bronner’s lawsuit also contends that making surfactants with petroleum based compounds is not consistent with “organic” or “made with organic”  labeling.  As stated in the case management conference statement, the fundamental basis of the suit if the misrepresentation of “organic” when the product isn’t and the unfair shift in sales and profits from companies that are in fact certified organic.

The California State Attorney General has also brought a Proposition 65 lawsuit against certain defendants, contending that the failure to provide a Proposition 65 warning on products containing 1,4-dioxane is a violation of Proposition 65. 

It will be interesting to see how the cases develop.  In its litigation, Dr. Bronner’s has won the first round – defeating demurrers (challenges to the legal sufficiency of the complaint) – but we’ll see how the rest goes.

Smart Mama Tip:  If you want to avoid 1,4-dioxane, skip products with ingredients indicating ethoxylation – myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth or any other “eth”, PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene or oxynol.  You can also buy products certified under the USDA organic program – they tested fine as did German Natural BDIH certified brands Aubrey Organics and Dr. Hauschka.  And, as for sodium laureth sulfate – yes, it is the ethoxylated form of sodium lauryl sulfate and can have 1,4-dioxane as a contaminent.

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