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Consumer Group Pushes J & J on Chemicals in Shampoo

Tue, 05/26/2009 - 6:47am
LINDA A. JOHNSON AP Business Writer TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A coalition of health, environmental and consumer groups is demanding that health products giant Johnson & Johnson remove tiny amounts of two chemicals suspected of causing cancer from its Johnson's Baby Shampoo and other products. In a letter sent late Friday by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to J&J's chief executive, William Weldon, the seven-year-old group asks the company by the end of August to reformulate its personal care products so that they are free of 1,4-dioxane and any preservatives that release formaldehyde. The letter was signed by nearly 50 groups representing about 1.7 million members, from the Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth to the American Nurses Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility. Johnson & Johnson spokesman Bill Price said, "The trace levels of certain compounds that were noted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics can result from processes that make our products gentle for babies and safe from bacteria growth. Many regulatory agencies around the world consider these trace levels safe." Price said the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company takes concerns about its products "very seriously" and would consider meeting with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. He said J&J has no immediate plans to remove the two ingredients. The chemicals in question are 1,4-dioxane, a byproduct of the manufacturing process, and the preservative formaldehyde, which is slowly released by a chemical called Quaternium-15 to kill bacteria. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde both are probable human carcinogens; formaldehyde also is a skin, eye and respiratory irritant. "There's really no excuse for a baby shampoo marketed as the No. 1 choice of hospitals to contain chemicals suspected of causing cancer," Lisa Archer, the campaign's national coordinator, told The Associated Press in an interview. Tests by an independent laboratory commissioned by the campaign, Analytical Sciences of Petaluma, Calif., found Johnson's baby shampoo had 210 parts per million of formaldehyde, and about two dozen other products out of 48 tested had similar or higher levels. Johnson's baby shampoo also had a low level of 1,4-dioxane, a chemical banned by the European Union that was also found in three Aveeno baby wash products made by J&J, Johnson's moisture care and oatmeal baby washes, and about 25 baby and personal care products made by other companies. Though the amounts in question are so small that many deem them safe, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, acting director of consumer group Public Citizen, said, "Generally with carcinogens, there isn't any safe level." The campaign notes that the two chemicals are not listed on product labels because they are contaminants, not ingredients. The campaign released its test results in March. At that time, Dr. John Bailey, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, said the "extremely low" levels of chemicals in the products tested "are not a cause for health concern." Last month, Sen. Kerstin Gillebrand, D-N.Y., introduced a bill directing the FDA to regulate such products made for children. The campaign's letter to Weldon states that other companies make similar products "by using ingredients that do not have contamination concerns." The letter also notes J&J products in Japan do not release formaldehyde because it is banned in products there. Price said that is true, adding J&J products "meet or exceed the regulatory requirements in every country where they are sold." However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate cosmetic products, said Wolfe, whose group is not involved in the campaign. "The cosmetic industry has pounded on ... Congress to keep the FDA from having any kind of authority to require (safety or testing of) cosmetic ingredients used by tens of millions, including many children" for more than three decades, he said. He said these chemicals can be absorbed by the skin but could easily be removed from the products — at additional cost. If the two chemicals were food additives, he noted, they would have to be tested before being sold to prove they didn't contain dangerous chemicals. "These products would flunk such a test," Wolfe said.
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