And next up, in the Department of Everything Is Killing Us: A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives says all sorts of personal care and household products—including many labeled natural or organic—contain potentially toxic chemicals not listed on their labels. The study, conducted by the nonprofit Silent Spring Institute, tested soaps, makeup, lotions, laundry detergents, cleaners, sunscreens, air fresheners and other common stuff for a roster of 66 chemicals thought to cause asthma and hormone disruption.
The result: 42 out of 42 conventional products and 32 out of the 43 products billed as safer alternatives contained substances like parabens, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) and triclosan. The highest concentrations of dangerous chemicals were found in vinyl products, such as shower curtains and pillow protectors; fragranced products such as dryer sheets; and sunscreens. Robin Dodson, study co-author, said the results highlight the need for more complete labeling so that consumers know what they’re being exposed to.
“These results show we are exposed to a wide range of chemicals of concern in everyday products, and the chemicals aren’t always listed on the labels,” she said. “That can be a basis for modernizing our chemical policy in the United States. It seems these chemicals are not being adequately tested before being put on the shelf.”
But many have taken issue with Silent Spring’s report.
Martin Wolf, director of product sustainability for Seventh Generation, said his company doesn’t use any of the chemicals the researchers claim to have found in three of its products, and perhaps the results were due to cross-contamination in manufacturing or testing.
The Personal Care Products Council pointed out that the analysis “provides no consideration for the potency, dose or exposure levels of the ingredients.” Linda Loretz, scientist and director of safety and regulatory toxicology for the Council, said:
“The results of this study are not new or surprising and should not alarm consumers. The mere presence of those chemicals identified does not mean they are harmful.”
And the American Chemistry Council released a statement saying:
“We are disappointed that the Silent Spring Institute would make unfounded claims about the health effects of very low-levels of government-approved chemicals used in everyday consumer products without facts to support their claims. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated, the level of exposure to a chemical is relevant, not its mere presence. Additionally, Silent Spring claims a relationship between certain chemicals in consumer products and asthma, without providing adequate scientific information to draw such a connection.”
I just wish I could find information about which products tested positive for which chemicals at which levels, although perhaps that’s not possible—according to the Consumer Specialty Products Association, the study combined all of the products within a particular product category and analyzed them in aggregate, which is a serious methodology problem.
“This significantly limits the utility of any results and blurs any differences in formulation, thus preventing any comparison to other products or alternatives and impeding any scientifically valid conclusions,” said CSPA Scientific Affairs Director Steven Bennett.